Philadelphia Wrongful Death Lawyer
Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to shift the financial burden of someone’s death from the surviving family to the person or organization responsible for the death. The law recognizes that it is unfair for grieving family members to have to suffer financially when neither they nor the deceased are to blame. To that end, the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act allows the personal representative of the estate to bring a lawsuit for compensation on behalf of:
- The victim’s spouse
- The victim’s minor children
- Adult children who were dependent on the victim
- The victim’s parents
The law recognizes that the above groups of people are the most financially harmed when someone dies. Furthermore, spouses and children have close emotional bonds with their spouse or parent, relying on them for emotional support and guidance. The law will also compensate survivors for the loss of these relationships. More distant relatives, like siblings or cousins, are not allowed to benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
If the personal representative does not file a wrongful death lawsuit within 6 months of the death, then any of the above beneficiaries can bring a lawsuit themselves.
Damages may be awarded for funeral and burial expenses, loss of future income, pain and suffering, loss of consortium (loss of a loved one’s companionship or care), and punitive damages intended to punish the defendant for their negligence.
We know that no amount of money will ever replace or bring back your loved one. But it may help bring your family closure to know that justice has been served against those responsible for your loved one’s wrongful death, and give you the comfort of knowing your family will be provided for well into the future.
What Do You Need To Prove?
A wrongful death claim is called a “derivative” claim, meaning that you basically step into the deceased’s shoes and bring whatever lawsuit they could have brought had they lived. For example, if your loved one was killed by a defective product, they would have been able to bring a product’s liability lawsuit had they lived. Or, if the deceased was killed by someone’s negligence, then they could have brought a negligence lawsuit had they lived.
As the person bringing a wrongful death lawsuit, you will need to prove whatever the deceased would have needed to prove. For example, you might need to show that product piece of equipment was dangerous because it had a defect. This defect might be a manufacturing defect or a design defect. Or you might show that the product was defective because the manufacturer didn’t supply sufficient instructions or safety warnings. Once you establish that the product was defective and that it caused your loved one’s death, then the manufacturer is strictly liable for the injuries.
Many wrongful death lawsuits are also brought for “negligence,” which is the legal term for carelessness. On construction job sites, many people are responsible for making the site reasonably safe. If they fail to exercise that reasonable care, and your loved one died as a result, then you can bring your wrongful death claim based on negligence. You’ll need to prove the following four elements:
- Duty: The defendant owed your loved one a duty to exercise reasonable care.
- Breach: The defendant didn’t exercise reasonable care (a breach).
- Damages: Your loved one died.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach of reasonable care caused the death.
For example, the job site owner might not have informed the contractor or the construction crew that the soil on the job site is constantly shifting. If the ground shifts and ends up killing your loved one, then you might be able to sue the premises owner for negligence for failing to inform the necessary parties that the ground was dangerous.
Grieving family members are not required to know who to sue. You weren’t at the accident scene and have no way of knowing the details of what caused your loved one’s death. In the aftermath of your loved one’s death, your sole focus should be on your family’s physical and emotional well-being. Leave the fact-finding to the personal injury lawyers at The Levin Firm who can visit the job site and interview witnesses to identify the party responsible for your loved one’s death.
It is important to contact an attorney right away if you have lost a loved one in a construction accident. The nature of a construction site is that it is constantly changing, and it is important that the site is investigated, observed and photographed in the same condition that it was in when the accident occurred. Property owners may try to fix or cover up the dangerous condition that caused the accident, or it may be eliminated on its own as part of the original construction plans. That’s why you need an attorney who will work quickly and efficiently to ensure that you have the strongest case possible so that you can fully recover.
Building a strong wrongful death lawsuit requires skill and expertise that only an experienced personal injury lawyer can provide. For example, if you are suing a product manufacturer for selling a defective dangerous product, you’ll probably need an expert witness who can identify a design or manufacturing defect for the jury. Or if you are arguing that the job site was dangerous due to negligence, you’ll need someone knowledgeable about various safety laws to testify as to how the defendant breached their duty of reasonable care.
Identifying appropriate expert witnesses takes a lot of time and is not something you can do on your own. Good experts must have sufficient knowledge and experience to qualify as expert witnesses, but they also need to be able to describe complicated issues in a way that laypeople can understand. At The Levin Firm, our personal injury lawyers have years of experience building cases with the held of expert witnesses, and we are prepared to help you prove your case in court.
Representing clients in construction site wrongful death actions requires a team of aggressive investigators and compassionate lawyers all devoting their maximum effort to their clients. At The Levin Firm, our Pennsylvania, and New Jersey personal injury attorneys work together with a team of investigators and support staff to investigate every claim so that we may aggressively and zealously represent our clients and obtain the best possible results.
Philadelphia Wrongful Death FAQs
Two mothers recently lost their children in a daycare fire. An electrical failure caused by a routinely used extension cord located in the living room of the home may have caused the fire.
Losing a loved one in such a way is an unimaginably painful experience made even worse if the death results from someone else’s negligence or recklessness. For some families, taking legal action in the wake of a tragedy serves to hold someone accountable and to prevent future disasters. For others, the death of a loved one brings expenses and impacts to the lives of family members that compensation can help remedy.
If you have lost a loved one in Philadelphia because of someone’s bad decisions or dangerous actions, you have important legal rights to consider. Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about wrongful death lawsuits in Pennsylvania. To learn about your rights, contact the compassionate Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys at the Levin Firm today.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
Pennsylvania law defines a wrongful death as “the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.”
A wrongful death lawsuit, also referred to as a wrongful death action, is a lawsuit filed in civil court that seeks the recovery of damages from a party who is legally liable for the wrongful death. Wrongful death actions seek compensation for damage to the family members resulting from the death (such as loss of the deceased person’s income and support), as well as “special damages” that can include medical and funeral expenses relating to the death.
How is liability proven in a wrongful death case?
Family members of someone who has wrongfully died may seek payment of damages from anyone who has legal liability for the death. As a general matter, attorneys for grieving families prove liability by demonstrating:
- A party owed the deceased a duty of care. A duty of care is an obligation not to make decisions or take actions that put someone else at an unreasonable risk of harm. The duty of care that one person may owe another depends on the context of their interactions. For example, all drivers on Philadelphia roads owe each other duties of care not to drive so recklessly as to risk causing an accident. Philadelphia business owners owe their customers a duty of care to keep business premises free of unreasonably dangerous conditions. And so on.
- A party breached a duty of care. A person or entity breaches a duty of care by making decisions or engaging in actions that put someone in harm’s way. A motorist breaches a duty of care by speeding, for example. A business owner breaches a duty of care by failing to clean up spilled liquid on a tile floor.
- The breach caused the victim’s death. Generally speaking, a party has legal liability for breaching a duty of care when that breach causes harm, such as the death of someone in an accident or incident caused by the breach.
What types of accidents lead to a wrongful death in Philadelphia?
Traffic accidents represent the largest contributor to cases of wrongful death throughout Pennsylvania. Other accidents, incidents, and conditions in Philadelphia that could cause a wrongful death include:
- Dangerous property conditions, such as slippery floors that cause someone to fall, and unmonitored swimming pools where someone could drown.
- Defective products that are unreasonably dangerous when used as intended by ordinary consumers, and which cause fatal injuries.
- Medical malpractice, which is medical negligence on the part of a health care provider that may include a misdiagnosis, a surgical error, birth injury, medication error, or lack of adequate followup after a medical procedure that leads to a preventable death.
- Construction site accidents in which construction workers sustain fatal injuries, including electrocutions, falls from heights, and equipment malfunctions.
What is a survival action?
A wrongful death lawsuit focuses on the losses incurred by the survivors of a deceased victim. In contrast, a survival action in Pennsylvania allows a representative of the deceased victim’s estate to seek damages for harm suffered by the decedent before death. A survival action effectively allows the estate to stand in the shoes of the deceased and collect the damages that the deceased would have been entitled to recover through a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived. Survival actions and wrongful death lawsuits are often filed simultaneously.
Some of the losses that a deceased person’s estate can recover through a survival action include:
- The decedent’s pain and suffering from the time of the accident until the time of death.
- Loss of wages from the time of injury until the time of death.
- Loss of future wages that the decedent would have likely received had he or she survived.
- Medical bills incurred during the treatment of the decedent’s final injury that the estate paid.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Pennsylvania law recognizes that the individuals most frequently harmed by a wrongful death are those who were closest to the deceased and depended on the deceased for financial support.
Accordingly, Pennsylvania law authorizes the following people to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s minor children
- The deceased’s adult children who were dependent on the deceased for financial support
- The deceased’s parents
Does my deceased loved one’s PIP policy provide a death benefit?
It depends on what type of PIP policy your loved one carried and the level of benefits the policy provided. Many personal injury protection policies (which all motorists in Pennsylvania must carry) do, in fact, have a death benefit. Your insurance representative or an experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney can advise you as to whether your loved one’s policy included this benefit.
Can I file a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of an unborn child?
Possibly. Pennsylvania courts have permitted bringing a wrongful death action on behalf of a viable fetus who died in utero because of someone’s wrongful actions. Speak with an experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney about the scope of your family’s rights in the event of a tragic death of an unborn child.
Can I recover punitive damages in my wrongful death suit?
Punitive damages are damages that extend beyond the victim’s costs and impacts to his or her life. Punitive damages are designed to punish the at-fault party for particularly reckless behavior. Pennsylvania allows families to seek punitive damages in wrongful death cases. Your attorney can explain whether this is an option in your case.
I live in Philadelphia but my accident occurred in another state. Where do I file my wrongful death case?
Determining the proper jurisdiction in which to file a wrongful death lawsuit is sometimes a complex matter. We generally advise someone in this unfortunate situation to speak first with a local lawyer here in Philadelphia to determine the best course of action forward. The lawyer may conclude that the lawsuit belongs in another state’s court, rather than a court here in Pennsylvania, but if so, the lawyer can likely also help you connect with reliable legal counsel in that state.
My husband died in a workplace accident. Can I file a wrongful death action?
Generally speaking, workers are covered by Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law. Workers’ compensation is an insurance policy that most employers in the Commonwealth must purchase for their employees. This insurance provides a death benefit intended for family members after a workplace accident has caused the death of an employee. The availability of this death benefit usually takes the place of any right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the worker’s employer.
However, in some circumstances, the family of the deceased worker may have a legal right to seek damages from a third party (someone other than the employer or a coworker) for causing the worker’s death. An experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney can advise you about your rights in this circumstance.
I have heard that wrongful death cases involving children or elderly people result in lower damages than those involving adults. Is that true?
It seems impossible to place a dollar amount on the death of anyone, regardless of any age. However, monetary damages represent the only form of compensation our legal system can offer for a wrongful death. In some cases, we have found that the dollar value of damages in cases involving children and the elderly has fallen below levels we have seen in cases involving the death of an adult. This disparity, to the extent it exists, may reflect that the lost earnings of a deceased adult add to the damages recoverable in wrongful death cases, whereas children and the elderly rarely have earnings.
However, Pennsylvania law does permit the recovery of significant damages in all wrongful death lawsuits, so we encourage anyone mourning the loss of a loved one to speak with an experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney right away.
How is the value of a wrongful death case established?
One of the most important jobs of an experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney is to calculate the damages a grieving family should receive. The calculation generally seeks to put a dollar value on the loss the family incurs because of a tragic death. Two broad categories of damages figure into this calculation: economic damages—such as medical bills, funeral expenses, and lost wages; and noneconomic damages—such as loss of companionship and pain and suffering due to the untimely death.
Considerations a lawyer will take into account in estimating the damages to seek in a wrongful death case include:
- The deceased’s age and health at the time of the accident.
- The deceased’s income at the time of death.
- The amount or type of special training the deceased underwent in life to obtain the job position he or she held at the time of death.
- Future benefits that the family lost due to the death, such as pension or vacation time.
- The identity of the responsible party and the level of negligence, recklessness, or intention exhibited.
- The amount of pain and suffering the decedent experienced due to the injury that led to his or her death.
Do wrongful death cases ever settle outside of court?
Yes. In fact, as with other personal injury actions, most (but not all) wrongful death cases settle out of court before reaching a trial. Experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys often spend significant amounts of time negotiating with opposing parties and their insurance representatives in pursuit of a fair and reasonable settlement of a wrongful death claim. Of course, there is never any guarantee that a particular case will settle, so experienced attorneys know they must always prepare as if the case will end up in a trial.
Wrongful death cases can settle at any time. Some may resolve quickly—within a month or two of starting. Others may not settle until they reach the courthouse steps. Many factors determine whether and when a case might settle. Contact an experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney to explore the prospects of settlement in your circumstance.
When multiple family members survive the deceased, how are wrongful death damages divided among them?
Under Pennsylvania law, wrongful death settlements or jury awards get divided as follows:
- If there is a spouse, the first $30,000 is allocated to the spouse. The remainder is divided between the spouse and children.
- If there is no spouse, then the full award is divided between the surviving children. If there are no surviving children, then the full amount is divided between the deceased’s parents.
Is my wrongful death settlement taxable?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, except for punitive damages, most wrongful death settlements and awards are not taxable. However, survival action awards are taxable to the extent they comprise lost and future wages which would have been taxed had the decedent survived. Speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to understand the tax implications of any wrongful death lawsuit proceeds you may expect to receive.
If you lost a loved one due to the careless, reckless, or intentional actions of another, you may qualify to recover damages through a wrongful death case. Contact the experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys at the Levin Firm today for a free case evaluation.
Don’t Delay Talking To A Wrongful Death Lawyer
Grieving families need compensation to pay expenses and begin to put their lives back together. As you mourn the loss of your loved one, you might find it difficult to talk with other people or even to leave the house. Nevertheless, you still need to carve out some time to meet with a Philadelphia wrongful death attorney because Pennsylvania law does not give you an unlimited amount of time to sue. Instead, you are only given 2 years from the date of your loved one’s death to start a wrongful death lawsuit in the appropriate court.
If you wait too long, then it is highly likely that you will lose your lawsuit. This means no compensation for you and your loved ones—even if the other party is absolutely at fault for the accident. Make time to pick up the phone or send an email to an experienced wrongful death lawyer so that they can start the legal process right away and protect your rights.
Contact A Wrongful Death Attorney In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Today
If a loved one was killed at a construction job site, you and your family might be entitled to financial compensation. When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or New Jersey personal injury attorney to represent you, a family member or friend who has lost a loved one due to a construction site accident, contact The Levin Firm, who represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case.
We’ll thoroughly review the factual record to identify the party responsible for your loved one’s death and present a compelling case to the jury. Call us today at 215-825-5183 or fill out our online contact form. The initial consultation is free.
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“I appreciated the time that Gabriel took to listen to my concerns. He and his office staff were always very prompt about returning any phone calls that I had. I feel that Mr. Levin worked very hard to get the best results possible for my accident case. It was a positive experience and I would recommend him to others.” -Kelli M.