How to Find the Best Wrongful Death Lawyer in Philadelphia?
Families deserve justice when a wrongful death takes their loved ones. Choosing the right lawyer can make the difference between receiving the best possible result and a protracted slog that disappoints families.
To find the best wrongful death lawyer for your case, consider the following avenues:
Word of Mouth Referrals
Your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others may know of excellent wrongful death attorneys. In addition, referrals based on first-hand experience often prove invaluable.
Bar Association Referrals
The Philadelphia Bar Association can produce a list of qualified attorneys in your area.
Legal websites post reviews and provide referrals.
Searching the websites of wrongful death lawyers provides valuable information and helps you evaluate credentials and case history.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death in Philadelphia?
According to Pennsylvania law, wrongful death is caused by a wrongful act or negligence. For instance, the at-fault driver in a car accident causes a wrongful death by negligence. No intent existed to harm the victim; instead, the wrongful death was due to a mistake.
Intentional acts also result in wrongful deaths. For example, if an armed robber’s holdup results in a bank teller having a fatal heart attack, it is a wrongful death. The robber has both criminal- and civil liability.
Pennsylvania law also creates a category for medical malpractice wrongful death claims. Medical professionals must safeguard the lives and health of their patients. Should a doctor make an error that kills the patient, a medical malpractice claim exists.
Medical malpractice claims often have additional complications compared to other wrongful death suits. While it may be obvious how a car accident victim died and who is responsible for the collision, many medical malpractice claims require extensive investigation before the error can be identified and attributed to the negligent party.
Therefore, it’s helpful to know the most common types of medical malpractice. If it seems a medical procedure went wrong, consider the following possible causes:
Misdiagnosis happens with regularity. The human body is complex, and each individual varies. How a disease presents in one patient may differ from another.
However, there are recognized standards for diagnosing conditions that doctors must follow, and failure can cause a misdiagnosis.
For instance, a doctor may overlook or misinterpret information, causing him to conclude the patient is healthy when a serious illness is present. In some cancer cases, a doctor may neglect to order testing because of a misjudgment. If this causes a fatal delay in treatment, a wrongful death action against the physician may ensue.
Failure to Treat
Even when the diagnosis is accurate, the doctor may fail to treat the issue properly. For example, a physician may underestimate the severity of the patient’s symptoms and discharge her from the hospital too soon. This could lead to a failure to treat the symptoms in time, resulting in medical malpractice.
Prescription Drug Errors
Prescription drugs pose dangers when improperly administered. The consequences range from a mildly adverse reaction to a fatal reaction.
The most frequent prescription drug errors include prescribing inappropriate medication for the condition or the wrong dosage. In addition, the physician may fail to account for the possible interactions with other medicines. During hospital stays, patients are harmed when the staff accidentally administers another patient’s medication.
Surgical or Procedural Errors
Errors in surgeries or procedures often lead to medical malpractice claims. Examples include surgery on the wrong body part, amputating the wrong body part, leaving surgical tools in the body, and accidentally puncturing an organ.
Injuries to the baby or mother during childbirth often lead to medical malpractice claims. Providers may err during delivery by applying excessive force, overlooking fetal distress, not ordering a cesarean section when needed, and injuring the baby through mishandling.
Anesthesia is a delicate procedure. The drugs must be powerful enough to allow for surgery, which requires a deep state of unconsciousness. A small overdose can be fatal.
Anesthesiologists must determine the proper dosage for each patient. Great expertise is needed to choose the proper medications and dosages for each individual. In addition, proper equipment is needed to administer the anesthesia safely.
In some cases, the provider neglects to factor in the patient’s medical history, administers the anesthesia with defective equipment, or prescribes too high a dose.
What Is the Difference Between a Civil- and Criminal Wrongful Death Case?
Criminal wrongful death cases involve homicide charges, such as vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter, and murder. The state brings these cases because the perpetrators violated specific statutes that are punishable by incarceration.
The intent is a key feature in all criminal prosecutions. To win a conviction, prosecutors must establish mens-rea, or the intent to commit a crime.
In most shootings, mens rea is firmly established. Except for accidental discharges and self-defense, the intent to commit the crime, be it murder or attempted murder, is axiomatic.
However, intent to kill is not necessary for some homicide charges. A person could be convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter if they committed a crime that resulted in someone’s death, even if the defendant has no intention for the outcome to be fatal.
For example, a mugger may attack a victim by shoving him to the ground. Pushing someone to the ground in a mugging should result in assault, battery, and robbery charges.
However, imagine if the victim’s head hits the ground, and he dies. Though the defendant did not intend to kill the victim, his commission of the crime of assault and robbery resulted in the death of another. He can therefore face a second-degree murder charge under Pennsylvania’s felony murder rule.
A similar logic applies to fatal drunk driving accidents. In most examples, there is no intent to cause harm to the victim. However, the drunk driver did intend to commit a crime–driving while intoxicated–and that crime killed the victim. The state only needs to prove the drunk driving to make the defendant eligible for a felony homicide charge.
No Mens Rea Needed in Civil Wrongful Death Cases
Civil wrongful death lawsuits focus not on the perpetrator's intent but on his or her negligence or recklessness and how it contributed to a wrongful death.
In the examples cited above, the perpetrator can face both civil and criminal charges.
However, most wrongful death claims do not have a parallel criminal case. Instead, the wrongful death resulted from negligence, such as careless driving or medical malpractice. The defendant may also have acted recklessly, such as causing a fatal collision by speeding and tailgating.
A Preponderance of the Evidence Standard in Philadelphia
Civil wrongful death cases also have a lower threshold of proof compared to criminal claims. In criminal court, the state must prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Believing that the defendant likely committed the crime is insufficient for a jury to convict because it leaves room for reasonable doubt.
In civil court, the standard is the much lower preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not. So if a jury believes it’s more likely than not that the defendant was negligent and that negligence caused the death, it finds for the plaintiff even if there is still some room for doubt.
What Damages Can the Family Receive in a Wrongful Death Case?
Since courts cannot bring back a loved one, they can only provide some compensation to the grieved. Pennsylvania law entitles families to economic, general, and, in some cases, punitive damages.
Economic damages frequently include the following:
- Lost income
- Lost benefits
- Lost household work
- Funeral costs
- Other pecuniary damages
General damages attempt to compensate families for grief and the loss of important relationships. They often include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
Courts award punitive damages only in cases where the defendant's actions were despicable. For example, a typical car accident wrongful death case may not qualify for punitive damages. On the other hand, a wrongful death case resulting from a vicious assault may qualify for punitive damages.
Wrongful Death Versus Survival Actions
Families of the decedent bring wrongful death claims. The case, of course, cannot compensate the victim but can help provide for the financial security of the family and some justice for the headache they feel.
Survival actions differ in that the executor of the estate brings the case. In essence, the executor “steps into the shoes” of the decedent. Therefore, the estate sues for compensation the victim would receive had he or she survived to bring a personal injury suit.
For example, in many wrongful death cases, the victim experiences pain and suffering. This may occur in the case of a vehicle collision where the decedent survived the impact initially but later passed away from the injuries.
In a survival action, the estate can sue for the decedent's pain and suffering. Unlike a wrongful death case, where the pain and suffering of the family are addressed, a survival action is about the losses experienced by the deceased.
In the same vein, the estate can seek compensation for lost income, medical bills, and other costs to the victim.
Families of those wrongfully killed deserve as much compensation as possible. No amount of money can right this wrong, but a wrongful death settlement or award can maintain the family's financial security in their time of need.
Consult With Philadelphia Wrongful Death Lawyers
Mattiacci Law’s wrongful death lawyers understand the importance of justice for families. They have the skill and experience to build an uncontestable case for liability and damages. If you believe your loved one suffered from wrongful death, contact Mattiacci Law for a free consultation.
Related Post: Wrongful Death Claim vs. Survival Action