What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?

  • September 08, 2019
  • Blog
What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?

Losing a loved one is always tragic. When your family member dies as a result of another person’s negligence, however, it can be even more devastating. In addition to grief, you may experience a number of emotions — including anger at the person responsible for your loss.

While nothing will bring your loved one back, there are ways that you can seek justice and be compensated in these situations. In Pennsylvania, there are two options for filing a claim to recover damages: a wrongful death claim or a survival action. Both lawsuits offer the ability to pursue financial recovery for your family member’s death, but with significant differences between the purpose and mechanisms for doing so.

Understanding the differences between a wrongful death claim and a survival action can help you make a more informed decision if you are even in the difficult position of grieving a loved one who died as a result of another person’s negligence. A Philadelphia wrongful death attorney can work with you to help you understand your choices and make the best decision for your family.

Wrongful Death Claims

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death claim can be brought whenever a person is killed as a result of the negligence, recklessness or intentional act of another person. These types of claims can arise from a number of different types of accidents, such as car crashes, medical malpractice, construction accidents, and even slip and falls. If a person is killed due to the fault of another person, it may be possible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

A wrongful death action is a specific type of legal claim that is brought for the benefit of a person’s beneficiaries. It is brought on behalf of the deceased person’s family members — their spouse, children or parents. A wrongful death action can be filed by a personal representative on behalf of the surviving family.

In a wrongful death claim, the lawsuit will seek damages that are designed to compensate the family for the loss that they have experienced as a result of their loved ones death. These damages will vary, but they will typically include:

  • Medical expenses;
    • Expenses related to the death itself, including funeral and burial costs, and the expenses related to estate administration;
    • The value of the deceased’s person’s anticipated financial contributions to the family;
    • The monetary value of support to the family for society, comfort and services; and
    • Compensation to the children for the loss of support and services that would have been provided by their deceased parent.

As a general rule, damages that are recovered through a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania are not subject to inheritance tax. Instead, it is distributed under Pennsylvania’s estate law as though the deceased person did not have a will.

Survival Actions

In contrast to a wrongful death claim, a survival action is not made on behalf of the surviving family members. Instead, it is an action brought on behalf of the deceased person’s estate to compensate the person who died.

A survival action is brought by the administrator of the deceased person’s estate. In essence, the claims that a person would have had if they had survived the accident that killed them can be brought by the estate in a survival action.

Damages in a survival action may include pain and suffering, loss of gross earning power from the date of injury through death, and loss of earning power minus personal maintenance expenses from the time of death through the deceased person’s estimated working life span.

Because a survival action is a direct claim made by the estate on behalf of the person who died, the proceeds of this type of lawsuit go directly into the estate. Any settlement or judgment recovered as a result of a survival action may be subject to inheritance taxes as a result.

How Are Wrongful Death Claims and Survival Actions Different?

The first difference between a wrongful death claim and a survival action is who can bring the claim. A wrongful death lawsuit is brought on behalf of the spouse, parents or children. In contrast, a survival action is brought on behalf of the deceased person by the personal representative of the estate.

The second difference is between the two types of claims is the type of damages that are recoverable. In wrongful death claims, the focus is on the losses suffered by the family: loss of income and support, the loss of the deceased person’s companionship, and medical and funeral expenses. In contrast, a survival action seeks damages for the deceased person’s losses as though he had survived the accident, such as for pain and suffering.

The third difference lays in how the damages are distributed. In a wrongful death claim, the damages are distributed through Pennsylvania’s intestacy rules, and are not subject to estate taxes or claims against the estate. In contrast, damages in a survival action are distributed under the terms of a deceased person’s will, and are subject to both estate taxes and claims by creditors.

There is one significant commonality between both kinds of claims. For both wrongful death claims and survival actions, the statute of limitations is two years — the same as for all negligence claims in Pennsylvania. However, because these types of cases can be complex, and the statute of limitations is subject to exceptions, it is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after a loved one dies due to the actions of another person.

Contact a Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one died because of the actions of another person, you may be entitled to file a claim for damages, either through a wrongful death claim or a survival action. A Philadelphia wrongful death attorney can evaluate your case and help you decide the best course of action given your situation.

The experienced legal professionals of Mattiacci Law, LLC are dedicated to working with victims of all types of accidents, including surviving family members of people who have died in wrongful death cases. We have represented clients in a range of wrongful death and survival actions, and put our experience and knowledge to work for each of our clients to help them obtain the best results. Contact us today at 215-914-6919 (Philadelphia office) or 856-219-2481 (New Jersey office), or email us to schedule a free initial consultation.

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