Did Negligence Lead to a Loved One's Death?

Did Negligence Lead to a Loved One's Death?

File a wrongful death lawsuit in Kingston, PA

Every client's situation is different, but wrongful death is usually linked to medical malpractice or another form of negligence. May Law handles wrongful death cases in Kingston, PA.

Contact Attorney May if you need to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Kingston, Pennsylvania. He'll review all of the evidence, build a strong case for compensation and fight for you in court.

Make an appointment with a wrongful death attorney today.

Get justice after a loved one's wrongful death

The death of a loved one is always tough. But it's especially difficult if their death could have been prevented. If you lost a loved one as the result of negligence, you deserve compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral costs
  • Lost income

May Law can help you with your wrongful death lawsuit. Attorney May has decades of experience, and he'll help you fight for compensation that you and your family deserve. Talk to a wrongful death attorney in Kingston, PA about your situation today.

WRONGFUL DEATH AND SURVIVAL CLAIMS

When a person dies as a result of the negligence of another, the law provides a way for surviving family members to seek justice. Pennsylvania has two separate types of claims that may be pursued by to recover money damages for the loss of a loved one. The lawsuit in a wrongful death case usually includes a claim for both of these two related yet unique causes of action: (1) the wrongful death action and (2) the survival action.

The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, Title 42 Pa. Code Sections § 8301 and §8302, states the distinctions between Wrongful Death and Survival claims. The family of the decedent and the personal representative for a decedent’s estate should consult a qualified personal injury attorney as there are important legal distinctions between these two separate causes of action and how each may affect the administration of the decedent’s estate.

Wrongful Death Actions

The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act (Title 42 Pa. Code, Section 8301 et sec.) provides for an action to compensate a decedent’s loved ones for the death of the family member when that death was caused by the negligence, unlawful violence, neglect, or wrongful act of another. Traditionally, wrongful death actions sought to compensate the decedent’s family for the economic loss caused by the decedent’s death, usually by awarding money damages for the income the decedent would have earned had he or she lived. These damages include the reasonable medical bills, funeral expenses and expenses of administration of the estate necessitated by reason of the injuries causing death. Also, damages can be recovered for the funds the decedent would have contributed to his or her family and the monetary value of the services, society and comfort the decedent would have provided to his or her family had he or she lived. The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in its decision of Rettger v. UPMC, 991 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 2010), ruled that surviving family members can be compensated for the emotional and psychological losses from the death of a loved one. The Superior Court ruled that the "loss of services" under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act includes more than just "household chores” and that "loss of services” extends to the profound emotional and psychological loss suffered on the death of a parent or child. The Court said that, in the context of a wrongful death action, the term "services" is not merely limited to the value of services such as yard work but, rather, it extends to the profound emotional and psychological loss suffered upon the death of a parent or a child.

The family members eligible under the law for compensation in a wrongful death claim are limited to the spouse, children, and/or parents of the decedent. Section 8301(b) of the Wrongful Death Act, provides that the respective shares of the wrongful death award are determined according to Pennsylvania’s law of intestate descent. This means that rules for how an individual’s estate would pass if he or she died without a will are used to apportion the shares of the surviving family members. Therefore, even if the decedent had a will that provided otherwise, the terms of the will do not apply to those monies recovered in a wrongful death award or settlement.

The Wrongful Death action is to compensate the decedent’s family members as a result of their loss, and is therefore distributed directly to the decedent’s beneficiaries and not to the decedent’s estate. Since a wrongful death award is the property of the beneficiaries, and not the decedent’s estate, the wrongful death proceeds are not subject to the Pennsylvania inheritance tax or federal estate tax. Nor can these proceeds be used to repay the creditors of the decedent’s estate. Wrongful death proceeds are not considered income to the beneficiaries, and as such these proceeds pass directly to the beneficiaries without being subject to income tax. Because the wrongful death proceeds pass directly to the beneficiaries, these monies are not subject to the probate process.

Survival Actions

In contrast, Title 42 Section 8302 of the Wrongful Death Act defines survival actions as the causes of action that the decedent would have been able to bring for the injuries he or she suffered had the decedent survived to do so. Since the decedent is no longer able to bring a claim and personally recover damages for his or her injuries, the decedent’s estate is the beneficiary of any proceeds recovered in a survival action. The survival action proceeds are distributed to those heirs named in his or her will. If the decedent died without a will, then the proceeds are distributed according to the laws of intestate descent.

The proceeds of survival action are distributed to the estate’s personal representative to be administered through the probate process for distribution. The survival action proceeds are subject to the Pennsylvania inheritance tax and the federal estate tax. Also, the proceeds can be used to satisfy the claims of any estate creditors. The survival action proceeds must also be included on the Inventory for the estate filed with the Register of Wills. Once all taxes and creditors have been paid, the personal representative distributes the survival action proceeds according to the terms of the decedent’s will or according to the laws of intestacy if the decedent had no will.

In lawsuits that involve both a wrongful death and a survival action, Court approval is sought to allocate what share of the total damages awarded should be attributed to the wrongful death action and the survival action respectively and the proceeds distributed accordingly. It is important for the personal representative to understand the differences between wrongful death and survival actions because each may require distribution to different beneficiaries, and each has different tax implications as well as procedures for distribution. For example, consider the situation where the decedent is married with two adult children. Consider also that the decedent had a will leaving his entire estate to his wife. He is injured in a tractor-trailer crash and then dies several days afterwards. The personal representative (executor of his will) files a lawsuit for negligence against the trucking company including both a wrongful death and a survival action. Assume the case is settled for $1 million, with the Court allocating half (50%) of the award to the wrongful death cause of action and the remaining half (50%) to the survival action.

In this example, the half (50%) allocated to the wrongful death action is distributed directly to the decedent’s spouse and children according to the laws of intestate descent. Under the intestacy laws of Pennsylvania, the wife receives the first $30,000 of this award plus one-half of the remaining balance. The other half of the remaining balance of the wrongful death settlement is distributed equally among the two adult children. These monies pass directly to the wife and children. No taxes are owed on these funds.

In contrast, however, the 50% attributed to the Survival action are distributed to his estate to compensate him (represented by his estate) for the harm he suffered as a result of his injuries. The personal representative of his estate can use these funds to satisfy any creditors of his estate. Pennsylvania inheritance tax or federal estate tax may be due on these assets. Following the payment of the creditors, payment of any taxes, and the conclusion of the probate process, the personal representative of the estate can then distribute the remaining proceeds of the survival action proceeds according to the terms of the will. Again, if there was no will, then the remaining survival action proceeds would be distributed according to the laws of intestate descent.