Commonly Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Lawsuits

March 21, 2016 / 12:00 am

The unexpected death of a loved one is always a terrible experience. If the death happened due to negligence, misconduct, or even an intentional action, it can be even more unsettling still. In legal parlance, this is a situation that’s known as “wrongful death.”

If a family member of yours has met his or her untimely death in such a manner—a spouse killed by a drunk driver, or while operating a faulty piece of heavy machinery at work—you may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the alleged guilty party.

But wrongful death lawsuits can be complicated. And if you’ve recently lost a family member, we realize you may not be thinking straight.

With those points in mind, we’d like to answer some commonly asked questions about wrongful death lawsuits: the process of bringing such a suit to court, for instance, and the various financial considerations.

With over 65 years of combined experience in personal injury law and other practice areas, the attorneys at the Bucks County-based firm of Penglase & Benson are dedicated to empowering their clients, no matter how unique their legal concerns.

If you think you may have a legitimate wrongful death case, we urge you to contact us at your earliest convenience. But first, spend some time reading through the following questions about wrongful death lawsuits. They may help you determine the sort of damages—if any—you could be entitled to.

Q. What exactly is wrongful death?

A. “Wrongful death” is a legal term. In practical terms, it is a death that occurs as the result of a person or entity’s negligence, oversight, or intentional wrongdoing. A wrongful death lawsuit—which is always a civil lawsuit, and never a criminal case—can be brought about by a family member of the deceased. It’s also important to bear in mind that, legally speaking, wrongful death and murder are two different things, even if the wrongful death occurred as the result of intentional wrongdoing.

In other words, the defendant in a wrongful death case will never face criminal charges or jail time, unless he or she is prosecuted in criminal court. Instead, a defendant who loses his or her case will simply be ordered to pay monetary damages.

Q. Who is legally allowed to bring a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania?

A. The guidelines surrounding who can and cannot file a wrongful death suit in the U.S. vary from state to state. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, only the spouse, adult child, or parent of the victim is legally allowed to file, with one exception: If a non-relative was named as the victim’s personal representative before the victim died, that person can also file.

Q. Does Pennsylvania have a statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit?

A. Again, this is something that varies from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death suit is two years. Bu that limit isn’t necessarily set in stone. Indeed, it’s possible that certain extenuating circumstances could affect a particular situation’s time limit. If you think you may be in such a situation yourself, get in touch with an attorney who specializes in civil litigation and personal injury law as soon as possible.

Q. If I win a wrongful death case, will I be required to pay taxes on the recovered damages?

A. It’s unusual for any damages won through wrongful death cases to be taxable. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not tax wrongful death damages.

Q. What sorts of damages are legally allowed to be recovered in a wrongful death case?

A. Family members involved in a wrongful death case may be entitled to any number of damages. The best way to think about the damages you might consider attempting to recover is to ask yourself what effect, financial and otherwise, the death will eventually have on you and your family. If a family’s main breadwinner is killed, a court may use a life expectancy table to estimate that person’s future earning potential. Survivors may also be entitled to the monetary equivalent of medical and funeral expenses, the loss of companionship, and mental anguish and suffering, to name just a few.

What Should Your Next Steps Be?

If you’ve lost a loved one due to the negligence or outright carelessness of another person or entity, consider contacting the attorneys at Penglase & Benson. We’ve been practicing family law and personal injury law in the Bucks County and Montgomery County areas for decades. If you have a potential case, we’ll know within minutes of speaking with you. Give us a call. Doesn’t your loved one deserve to have someone speak for them?