Time Requirements for Filing a Wrongful Death Suit in Pennsylvania
When someone dies as the result of another person’s negligence or intentional, malicious act, it is legally termed as a “wrongful death.” If someone has caused the loss of life to your spouse, immediate family member, or someone else in your family, you have the right to file a wrongful death suit against that person. The laws concerning wrongful death are different from state to state, including how long you have to file and who can collect damages, so here we will give an overview of wrongful death as a whole and then give you the specifics of Pennsylvania.
Wrongful death suits are usually filed by someone very closely related to the person who died. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an immediate family member or spouse who does the actual filing, though, because they are often too wrapped up in grief and suffering to concentrate on legal matters. That’s why it is also important to have a will in place with someone stated outside of your closest family who can help execute your estate in the event of an unplanned death or accident.
When Wrongful Death Is the Appropriate Course of Action
There are a few different situations where wrongful death applies, and each one will have its own specific course of action. Oftentimes, a wrongful death suit could have been a personal injury claim if it hadn’t ended in a fatality.
If someone intentionally kills another, also known as murder or homicide, this is one instance of wrongful death. Probably one of the most famous examples of this is the case involving O.J. Simpson (as the defendant) and the deceased Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. The lawsuits—specifically, civil suits—were brought forward by Brown’s and Goldman’s families. These were in addition to the highly publicized state case that the government brought against Simpson.
Medical malpractice is another very common type of wrongful death. This happens when a doctor, nurse, or another medical professional intentionally harms a patient or makes a medical decision that is not in the best interest of the patient. This can include failing to diagnose a condition, providing careless attention that results in death, or administering a medication that is known to have negative side effects with a particular condition or other medication.
Medical negligence or recklessness are two of the main ways to bring about a medical malpractice suit, but just because a medical case goes awry doesn’t always mean that medical malpractice is applicable. For example, sometimes over the course of treatment, a patient’s condition worsens—no matter what medications, surgeries, or treatments are provided. If the doctor has done everything to their utmost ability and used all the resources at their disposal, but a patient still dies, that is not considered malpractice. There aren’t any guarantees in medicine. If the doctor’s choices for treatment were reasonable and within scientific standards, then they are usually in the clear.
Sometimes, too, a patient has a condition that is considered untreatable, or terminal. There are always things a doctor can do to make a patient more comfortable, but Western medicine can only go so far toward curing things that have taken hold with a vengeance. Medical malpractice doesn’t mean suing any doctor that was in charge when someone died; it has to have been a case where they knowingly did something that would make the condition worse, or knowingly withheld a treatment that could have made things better.
Car accidents are another area that is a bit tricky, but they can often be a cause of wrongful death, too. Vehicle accidents happen by the thousands every single day. But for something to be wrongful death, it has to be intentionally negligent or malicious in nature. So, if a person got into a car on their own who wasn’t licensed to drive—thus, knowing that they couldn’t drive safely—and went for a joyride, then killed someone, it could be a case of wrongful death.
How to Prove Wrongful Death
Just as in a “regular” court case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. This means that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and the plaintiff (the person executing the estate of the victim) or their lawyers must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally or negligently caused the fatality. Examples of this could be:
- Showing that the defendant was responsible to care for the victim and did not
- Showing that the defendant’s lack of care directly caused the victim’s death
- Proving that the damages sought were directly related to the death
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania?
Usually, these types of claims are filed by a person who has been legally named to execute someone’s estate after death. They do this on behalf of the grieving, surviving members of the victim’s family.
In every state in the country, a spouse may bring about a wrongful death suit. If the victim was a minor (under the age of 18), then their parents are also legally able to pursue action, no matter the place. Minors, although they will need an adult to take charge of their case, can collect damages if their parent was killed.
After that, there are differentiations by state. Some say that parents can sue on behalf of their adult children and vice versa, some allow for siblings to take action, and in some states, this can also extend to aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents. Typically, the further away on the family tree someone is, the harder it will be to convince a court that they have the right to file a wrongful death suit.
Damages that You Can Claim in a Wrongful Death Suit in Pennsylvania
Depending on the specifics of a case, wrongful death settlements can include a variety of damages, totaling the full amount that the family member(s) can collect. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Any pain and suffering that the victim went through before they died
- Costs of medical treatment connected to prior injuries that eventually resulted in the death
- Hospital stays
- Nursing care or in-home medical care related to the injuries that led to death
- Burial or cremation and funeral costs
- Loss of income that should have gone to the family members of the victim’s estate
- Loss of inheritance, depending on the details of the death and how it affected this portion of the estate
- Value of services that the victim would have provided the family or the community if they had been alive
- Loss of emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical care, guidance, or nurturing that the victim could have given to their family or community
- Loss of companionship, partnership, or love
- Loss of consortium
- Estate administration fees
Obviously, some of these are quantifiable, such as loss of income or medical bills. Those things such as loss of love, companionship, or value to the community are harder to put a number on. The amount will be decided on by a judge when information is compiled such as affidavits from family members, witnesses, or those close to the deceased.
Specifics for Wrongful Death Suits in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, you must file a wrongful death suit within two years of the death. The only people who are allowed to seek action are the children, married partner, or parents of the victim. However, if none of these people exist, then a representative of the deceased’s estate can bring a suit forward for medical, funeral, and administrative costs associated with the death and arrangements. Pennsylvania also does not allow for cases of wrongful birth or wrongful life.
If you do not file within this two-year period, you lose your right to sue and recover damages regarding this specific death. The two-year period, however, begins only when the cause of death is determined, not necessarily on the day that the victim died. So, when the family gets word from the autopsy, if things don’t seem to be fully true or there is something strange, that’s when the family members should seek legal action.
The loss of a loved one is something you cannot put a price on. However, in our country, there are consequences for actions, and oftentimes the easiest way to go about delivering those consequences is by giving someone a financial punishment that will hit them hard.
If you think you have a case for wrongful death, it’s important to speak to a lawyer as soon as you can so that the information, evidence, and proof can be compiled and brought forward. Since Pennsylvania has a statute of limitations of two years, time is of the essence. You might think that two years is a long time, but when you are in the throes of grieving your family member, time slips away from you and things take longer than you might expect.
You deserve a lawyer who will treat your and your family’s case with respect, empathy, and the fierce drive that will deliver you what you deserve with regard to the loss of your loved one. The experienced professionals at Mattiacci Law have won case after case and will work with you tirelessly. You deserve to be able to grieve in peace without having to worry about financial matters. We will help you get there.