Paul didn’t know where to turn when his wife, Nancy, died three weeks after a tragic accident. Although he was still grieving for Nancy, Paul faced a major loss of income, huge medical bills, and funeral expenses. He wanted to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident. Paul’s lawyer suggested that a wrongful death lawsuit was more appropriate.
The name seems self-explanatory – it’s a lawsuit involving someone who died because of someone else’s actions. But wrongful death claims also seem remarkably similar to personal injury claims. It’s important to understand several crucial differences.
An injured person can file a personal injury claim to recover financial compensation from the person who caused their pain. A deceased person cannot. Instead, someone else files on their behalf. In fact, Pennsylvania law states that:
“An action may be brought … to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another…”
So, Paul can file a wrongful death lawsuit for his wife’s death after a traffic accident. Other circumstances where you might file a wrongful death action include physical assaults, product liability, and medical errors.
But can Paul start the lawsuit, or does someone else need to do that for him?
Under Pennsylvania law, only the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file the lawsuit. The personal representative, also known as the executor, can be appointed by the court or named in the decedent’s Will. However, any beneficiary may file the wrongful death lawsuit six months after the death if the personal representative has not done so.
This brings up another key difference between personal injury and wrongful death. In a personal injury claim, the injured party receives compensation. But the money awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit goes to the deceased person’s beneficiaries.
The law defines the term “beneficiaries” as “the spouse, children or parents of the deceased.” Any damages recovered by the wrongful death lawsuit will be distributed to the beneficiaries without the need to pay the decedent’s creditors.
If someone you love and depend on died because of someone else’s negligence, the answer could be “yes.” However, keep in mind that the lawsuit must be filed within two years after the person dies under the Pennsylvania statute of limitations law.
For 115 years, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Powell Law have provided valuable assistance to residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania seeking to recover damages for injuries or harm caused by any type of tort, whether based on intentional or negligent conduct, or actions for which strict or absolute liability may be imposed. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777 or visit us online. Call now for a FREE case evaluation. You don’t pay unless we win!