wrongful death claim

How to File a Wrongful Death Claim

While the nuances of the definition can vary slightly from state to state, most, Pennsylvania included, define a wrongful death as a death resulting from the wrongful act or negligence or another. In addition to being a real tragedy and a palpable loss for a family and loved ones, a victim in a wrongful death action can leave behind a deep sense of emotional loss as well as have a profound impact on the finances of a family. This is particularly true when the victim was the breadwinner or primary earner in a family. The law provides a way for those who have suffered as a result of the victim’s death by allowing them to bring a wrongful death claim.

How to File a Wrongful Death Claim

The first thing to talk about when discussing how to file a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania is who is actually authorized to file a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania law requires the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The personal representative of the estate is most often named in the will of the decedent. In the event, however, that the decedent died without a will, otherwise referred to as dying “intestate,” the court is authorized to appoint a personal representative if no one volunteers to take over the responsibility. Should the personal representative of the decedent’s estate fail to file a wrongful death suit within six months of the decedent’s death, any beneficiary of the decedent’s estate is permitted to file the wrongful death suit on behalf of all of the estate beneficiaries.

Pennsylvania has a statute of limitations in place that establishes a time limit allowed for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. It is two years. This means that a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of the person’s death. Failure to file a wrongful death claim within the two-year time frame means that a court is likely to deny hearing the case at all.

While the personal representative is the authorized person to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, the lawsuit itself is actually filed on behalf of the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. There are a variety of damages that are available in a wrongful death claim, including:

  • Final medical expenses of the decedent
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Expenses related to the administration of the decedent’s estate
  • Lost wages and benefits the decedent could have reasonably been expected to earn should he or she had lived to support the family
  • Pain and suffering

A wrongful death claim may also pursue compensation for loss of comfort and companionship. These kinds of damages, however, are intended to compensate surviving family members for loss related to the wrongful death. Because of this, damages for loss of comfort and companionship are only available if the decedent has a surviving spouse, children, or parents.

Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys

Have you lost a loved one due to the wrongful act or negligence of another? You can trust the team at Cooper, Schall & Levy to work tirelessly to pursue a wrongful death claim that can provide you with critical financial support in the wake of losing a loved one. Contact us today.

woman with a wrongful death in the family

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under Pennsylvania law, a wrongful death is said to occur when a death is caused by the “wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” Essentially, a wrongful death claim can arise in any event where a personal injury claim may have been brought had the deceased survived the incident. In fact, a wrongful death claim operates a lot like a personal injury claim where the victim is not able to bring his or her own claim. In a wrongful death claim, the personal representative of the deceased files the claim on behalf of the beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate.

While the prospect of facing a legal battle after losing a loved one can seem like too much to handle, successful wrongful death claims can provide surviving loved ones with critical compensation for the financial and emotional losses associated with the death of a loved one. In the face of a lifetime without a loved one, compensation received from a wrongful death claim can provide financial stability that can all too easily be lost when we lose a loved one upon whom we depend for support.

Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Claim

As a wrongful death claim is a civil case, the liability of the defendant in the claim is only expressed in terms of monetary damages. In criminal cases, a defendant who has been convicted faces things like imprisonment and other penalties. In civil cases, the defendant’s liability is only encapsulated in terms of monetary damage awards.

There is a range of things that can be compensated for in a wrongful death suit. There are damages that can specifically pertain to the personal representative of the estate. For instance, damages for estate administration expenses may be sought in a wrongful death claim by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. This is true regardless of whether or not there is a surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased. The personal representative may also seek damages to cover the costs of outstanding hospital and medical bills of the deceased, as well as funeral and burial expenses because the estate would otherwise be responsible for covering these expenses.

In the event that the deceased has a surviving spouse, or children, or parents, there are other damages available to pursue a wrongful death claim. You see, the fact that a wrongful death has occurred means that someone else’s negligence or intentional act has led to the untimely death of a loved one who may have been a source of significant emotional and financial support for his or her loved ones. Because of this, where there is a surviving spouse, children, or parents, a wrongful death claim may seek compensation for things like:

  • Loss of household services
  • Loss of comfort provided by the deceased
  • Loss of physical comforts
  • Loss of support
  • Loss of moral guidance

In addition to these emotional support losses, the wrongful death claim can also seek damages stemming from the loss of financial support that came with the loss of the deceased. A damage award may include compensation for lost wages and benefits, not only for those already incurred due to the loss of the deceased but also for those wages and benefits it could have been reasonably expected for the deceased to continue to earn for the family had he or she lived

Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorneys

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional act of another, let the trusted team at Cooper Schall & Levy help you and your loved ones through this difficult time. We are committed to taking on the legal burden associated with a wrongful death claim so you can focus on continuing to support each other during this trying time. Contact us today.

Cooper, Schall & Levy discusses who is able to sue for wrongful death in Pennsylvania.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania?

A wrongful death claim can be brought in cases when someone would have been able to bring a personal injury claim but died before being able to do so because they were fatally injured due to negligence or an intentional, harmful act perpetrated by the defendant in the action. For instance, a wrongful death action may be brought when the victim died as a result of car crash injuries or complications caused by medical malpractice. Not just anyone can bring a wrongful death action, however. Pennsylvania has specific laws in place that govern who has the right and ability to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of a deceased victim.

Suing for Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania requires that the personal representative of the victim’s estate bring a wrongful death claim. The personal representative is often assigned according to the terms laid out in the will of the deceased individual. If there is no personal representative provided for in the will, or if there is no will, the court is likely to appoint a personal representative. It is important to understand that while the personal representative brings the wrongful death action, he or she is actually filing the claim on behalf of the beneficiaries of the victim’s estate. Also, if the personal representative does not file the wrongful death claim within six months of the date of the victim’s death, then the beneficiaries have the right to file.

The beneficiaries are referred to as the “real parties in interest.” Pennsylvania considers real parties in interest to be limited to children and parents of the deceased. It does not matter whether the real parties in interest live in Pennsylvania or somewhere else. Pennsylvania limits who can benefit from a wrongful death action to the real parties in interest. This means that siblings, nieces, and nephews, along with more distant familial relations do not have a cause of action under the state’s Wrongful Death Act.

There are several things that may be included in the damages award when a wrongful death action is successful. For instance, all of the following may be awarded:

  • Household contributions
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Loss of care and comfort
  • Loss of guidance and tutelage 
  • Medical expenses
  • Expenses related to estate administration
  • Pain and suffering

Some of these things are recoverable to compensate for a surviving spouse or children. Others listed are intended to compensate the estate of the deceased. This means that, even if there are no surviving children and no surviving spouse, an estate may still file a wrongful death action in order to recover things such as funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and expenses related to the administration of the estate.

Wrongful Death Attorneys

The loss of a loved one is devastating. When it is the result of something like medical malpractice or a tragic accident, it can be sudden and shocking. That is why the dedicated wrongful death attorneys at Cooper, Schall & Levy take care of the legal action. We know that families are left to carry heavy emotional and financial burdens after the loss of a loved one. We held by leading the charge to enforce your legal right to compensation for your losses. Contact us today.

Cooper Schall & Levy discusses a recent wrongful death suit filed against a Penn State fraternity.

Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Penn State Fraternity

If a person dies as the result of someone else’s negligent or intentional action, then that person’s estate or family members may file a wrongful death claim. This is exactly what was done by the parents of Tim Piazza after their son died at a Pennsylvania State University fraternity party back in February of 2017. A settlement was reached with the fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, as well as the university. Now, Piazza’s parents are going after 28 former members of the fraternity.

Details of the Wrongful Death Suit

Tim Piazza was a sophomore engineering student from New Jersey when he died on February 2017. Piazza was at a fraternity pledge party where he consumed large amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual. Later, Piazza fell down a flight of stairs. Surveillance video from the night of Piazza’s death that was revealed in court showed Piazza moving through a drinking gauntlet as they chugged alcohol. The video also showed him in the early hours of the morning falling in the fraternity house and dropping to his knees while clutching an injured head. No one was seen trying to help him, and no one made a call for help for almost 12 hours. Piazza later died.

Piazza’s death resulted in dozens of Beta Theta Pi fraternity members facing criminal charges. Most of the serious charges, such as involuntary manslaughter, were thrown out by the Centre County Court. However, 23 of the fraternity’s former members entered pleas to charges that included hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.

Piazza’s parents previously reached a settlement with both the University and Beta Theta Pi without filing a lawsuit. The settlement agreements both include several non-monetary terms imposed to help make Penn State safer for other students. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, the university is to encourage fraternities to have a non-member adult living in their houses and also have the fraternities consider the installation of security cameras on their premises. Additionally, the university is to have educational and training opportunities regarding alcohol consumption and hazing.

Earlier this year, Piazza’s parents filed suit against 28 individual members of the fraternity, including the then fraternity president and pledge master, in what their legal counsel explains is an opportunity to hold those individuals accountable for planning and participating in the reckless hazing activities that resulted in Piazza’s death. Additionally, the security company, St. Moritz Security Systems, Inc., previously responsible for monitoring parties for the university’s interfraternity council, was named in the suit. The lawsuit accuses the fraternity members of acting negligently and recklessly when they coerced or encouraged Piazza to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol that directly caused his intoxication resulting in him falling and sustaining injuries leading to his death.

Piazza’s parents are seeking monetary damages from this suit. If successful, the judgments against the defendants would be paid from assets they have now or will have in the future. Their parents’ assets would not be on the hook. However, the homeowner insurance policies for the parents could be made available for some defendants if the policy covers negligence of individuals living in the home.

Wrongful Death Attorneys

If you or a loved one has died due to the negligence or reckless actions or inaction of someone else, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Such a loss is truly devastating. Cooper Schall & Levy are dedicated wrongful death attorneys committed to holding negligent parties responsible for the damage they have caused. Contact us today.

Cooper Schall & Levy discusses who can bring up a wrongful death suit in Pennsylvania.

Who Has Standing to Bring a Wrongful Death Suit in Pennsylvania?

Losing a family member is never easy. It does not matter whether the family was “expecting” the death soon because of an injury or illness or whether the death was sudden. The loss of a loved one is typically a difficult and challenging period for a family. The grieving process and financial hardship can be worse when the death was unnecessary. If your family member’s death was because of the negligence or wrongdoing of another party, a Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can help you explore your legal rights under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act.

What is a Wrongful Death?

According to Pennsylvania’s wrongful death laws, an action may be brought to recover damages for a death that is caused by the “wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence” of another person. Many situations can give rise to a wrongful death action including:

  • Motor vehicle accidents, including accidents involving pedestrians, cars, bicycles, trucks, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, and government vehicles
  • Train and airplane accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective product claims
  • Intentional acts of violence
  • Sports and recreational activities
  • Fires and explosions
  • Premises liability claims
  • Workplace accidents
  • Nursing home abuse or neglect
  • Animal and dog attacks

If family members suspect that another party or person was involved in the death of their loved one, it is usually a wise decision to discuss the circumstances of the death with an attorney to determine if the facts in the case give rise to a wrongful death claim. An attorney familiar with the state’s wrongful death laws can evaluate the case and also determine who has a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit under state law.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

The wrongful death laws for Pennsylvania restrict the individuals who have standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Standing refers to the legal right to bring a lawsuit in court. A person’s spouse, children, or parents may file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for damages caused by their family member’s death. The compensation received for a wrongful death claim is divided between the family members according to the percentage they would receive under the state’s intestate laws if the decedent did not have a will.

If a spouse, child, or parent is not eligible to recover damages or there is no surviving eligible family member, the personal representative for the estate may bring a wrongful death action to recover certain financial damages caused by the person’s death. Damages the estate may receive include medical expenses, funeral expenses, nursing care, hospital care, and expenses related to the administration of the estate.

In most cases, the personal representative for the estate files the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family members and the estate.

Survival Claims in Pennsylvania

A survival claim may also be filed in some cases of wrongful death. In a survival claim, the personal representative for the deceased stands in place of the deceased to bring any cause of action that survives the person’s death. For example, if the person died because of the negligence of another party, the estate may file a lawsuit based on negligence laws seeking compensation for pain and suffering, loss of lifetime income, and other damages that the person may have been entitled to receive under negligence laws.

Cooper Schall and Levy has a Proven Track Record of Success Handling Wrongful Death Cases

Cooper, Schall & Levy has been handling Pennsylvania wrongful death cases for decades and has a proven track record of success in these cases. In 2018, Cooper Schall and Levy took a wrongful death case to trial, where the case was ultimately settled on Day 5 of trial for $1,665,000. In that case, the victim was getting her nails done at a Philadelphia area nail salon, when a car crashed through the storefront unimpeded, struck and killed the victim. Cooper Schall and Levy worked tirelessly to bring justice and closure to the victim’s family and held multiple parties responsible, including the driver, the nail salon and the shopping center owners, who failed to install appropriate safety devices, such as bollards, to prevent this type of accident from occurring. This is one of many examples of Cooper Schall and Levy’s success litigating wrongful death and survival cases in Pennsylvania. 

Contact a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorney for More Information

Wrongful death laws are complex. The correct parties must file the lawsuit under the correct statutes. A Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can be extremely helpful. The wrongful death attorneys at Cooper Schall & Levy can investigate the circumstances surrounding the death and provide legal advice regarding all options for recovering compensation and seeking justice for wrongful death. Contact us today.