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Wrongful Death FAQ

When a loved one dies unexpectedly as the result of another party’s negligence, the immediate family is often far too grief-stricken to spend any time considering how to take legal action. As bills begin to mount and other everyday difficulties present themselves, family members begin to wonder what they can do to get some kind of financial support from the liable party.

Ciccarelli Law Offices understands the tremendous pain and suffering that families endure after the sudden passing of a loved one. Our caring and compassionate West Chester personal injury lawyers want you to take the time you need to mourn your loss while we handle all of the paperwork and investigations necessary to hold negligent parties accountable.

This section of our website is intended to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding wrongful death actions in Pennsylvania. Every case is different, and you can receive specific answers to your own unique case by calling (610) 719-3190 or submitting an online contact form to take advantage of a free, no obligation consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death in West Chester, PA

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Who can file a wrongful death claim?

Under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301(b), the right of a wrongful death action exists only for the benefit of the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased—regardless of whether they are citizens or residents of the Commonwealth. If none of these parties are eligible, the personal representative of the deceased may be eligible to bring an action to recover certain damages.

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What are the most common wrongful death actions?

A wrongful death claim can stem from any one of a number of acts involving another party’s negligence. A few of the most common include, but are not limited to automobile accidents, commercial truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, on-the-job accidents, medical malpractice, premises liability, and product liability.

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How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

An action to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act, neglect, unlawful violence, or negligence of another party must be commenced within two years under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2). This two year time period to commence an action in a wrongful death case in Pennsylvania is known as the statute of limitations.

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What is the difference between wrongful death actions and survival actions?

A wrongful death action is intended to compensate the direct beneficiaries of the deceased. Survival actions are intended to be legal actions that the deceased would have brought had they survived their injuries, and these actions may be brought by the personal representative to be distributed to the deceased’s estate.

Another major difference between a wrongful death and survival action is that wrongful death benefits are not considered income and are thus not subject to income tax or the probate process. Survival actions, however, are administered through the probate process and subject to both the Pennsylvania inheritance tax and the federal estate tax. Survival action proceeds may also be used to satisfy claims of any estate creditors.

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What kinds of damages can be recovered in a wrongful death claim?

Wrongful death actions are intended to compensate a decedent’s family for the economic loss caused by the loved one’s death. Damages can include not only the present value of services that the deceased would have rendered to the family, but also reasonable funeral, hospital, medical, and nursing expenses as well as other administrative costs necessitated by the injuries that caused the death.

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How are damages divided when the deceased had multiple heirs?

Assuming that a person dies without a will, wrongful death proceeds are distributed according to Pennsylvania’s rules of intestate succession. Distribution can become more complex in cases involving foster children, stepchildren, and children born outside of the deceased’s marriage, but intestate succession generally works as follows when a person dies with:

  • A spouse but no children or parents — The spouse inherits everything;
  • Children but no spouse — The children inherit everything;
  • A spouse and children the deceased had with that spouse — The spouse inherits the first $30,000 of the deceased’s intestate property and half of the remaining balance, the children inherit everything else;
  • A spouse and children from the deceased and someone other than that spouse — The spouse inherits half of the deceased’s intestate property and the children inherit everything else;
  • A spouse and parents — The spouse inherits the first $30,000 of the deceased’s intestate property and half of the remaining balance, the parents inherit everything else;
  • Parents but no spouse or children — The parents inherit everything; and
  • Siblings but no spouse, children, or parents — The siblings inherit everything.

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Can a person bring a wrongful death action if the deceased was unemployed?

Yes. Even if the deceased does not have any tangible lost wages, there may be a variety of other services provided that can be compensated for. This is especially common when the deceased was a stay-at-home parent.

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What happens in a case involving the death of a child or elderly person?

While recovery may be more modest in wrongful death claims or survival actions for children or elderly people, both are still possible. It is also important to note that the 1985 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Amadio v. Levin 509 Pa. 199, 501 A.2d 1085 (1985), extended to the estate of a child born dead the right to institute a survival and wrongful death action. A baby is considered is a stillbirth if it is born dead after 24 weeks of pregnancy, but fetuses not yet 24 weeks are considered miscarriages.

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What is the difference between murder and wrongful death?

This is a very common question because murder, homicide, and other similar criminal acts essentially involve a wrongful death. However, wrongful death is a civil action that operates under an entirely different area of law than murder and related offenses that are prosecuted through criminal litigation.

In wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiffs are seeking to make defendants liable for economic, noneconomic, and/or punitive damages through a preponderance of the evidence. In criminal cases, a prosecutor for the state is seeking to have defendants incarcerated, fined, or otherwise accountable to the state by proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Can a negligent party discharge a wrongful death judgement in bankruptcy?

It may be possible, although it is not always likely. Title 11 of the United States Code (commonly referred to as the Bankruptcy Code) § 523 specifically makes debts “for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to the property of another entity” non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

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I’m not sure that I can afford a lawyer, so why shouldn’t I accept the insurance company’s settlement offer?

Insurance companies for negligent parties will aggressively try to get you to sign away your rights and accept lump sum settlements that are much less than what you are entitled to. You should never even speak to a representative of an insurance company without an attorney.

You do not need to be concerned with paying Ciccarelli Law Offices for legal representation, as our West Chester personal injury lawyers represent clients on a contingency fee basis. This means that you pay us absolutely nothing unless we get you a financial award.

If your loved one was killed as the result of another party’s negligence, you should immediately contact Ciccarelli Law Offices to see how we might be able to help. Call (610) 719-3190 or complete an online contact form today to set up a free consultation that will let our attorneys review your case and discuss all of your legal options.

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