Understanding Wrongful Death and Survival Damages in Pennsylvania


It’s a terrible tragedy when a loved one dies because of someone else’s wrongful actions or carelessness. The pain of losing someone can be even worse under these circumstances because the loss didn’t have to happen.

Nothing can bring your loved one back, but Pennsylvania law provides ways for family and other beneficiaries to seek compensation for the financial repercussions of a loved one’s death. These payments, called “damages,” help compensate for the burden of the unexpected expenses that occurred because of the injury or accident, including medical and funeral expenses and the loss of the decedent’s income.

Spouses, parents, and children of the person who died can also seek compensation for the losses they will face in the future because their loved one is no longer with them. These include both tangible losses, such as the loss of payments for children’s education, and emotional losses, such as the loss of moral guidance and affection.

What is Wrongful Death?

Under Pennsylvania law, a death is considered a “wrongful death” if a person was killed because of someone else’s acts that the law considers negligent, wrongful, or illegally violent. Some examples of wrongful death are a person who dies from a gunshot wound, from a negligent medical mistake, or from a car accident where the other driver was negligent.

What Can the Law Do for You if a Family Member Suffered a Wrongful Death?

Pennsylvania law provides two ways for you to file a claim for damages. One is a wrongful death lawsuit, and the other is a survival action. People can, and often do, file for both. Pennsylvania’s system, with its two different types of actions, is complicated. So you should consult an attorney who has extensive experience in Pennsylvania with wrongful death claims to make sure that you are covering all your bases and getting everything you are entitled to under the law.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death lawsuit seeks to compensate family members for losses they will suffer because the person who died is no longer in their lives. These losses are calculated from the time of death until the end of the person’s expected life span had the injury or accident not occurred.

The types of losses that family members can seek may include the following:

  • Financial support the deceased would have been expected to contribute to the family, including payment for housing, food, clothing, education, medical care, entertainment, and gifts.
  • Work the deceased would have contributed to the home, including child care, cooking, cleaning, and yard work.
  • Loss of the deceased’s guidance, companionship, and comfort.
  • Spouses may also claim loss of affection, love, and sexual relationship.

What is a Survival Action?

A survival action in Pennsylvania seeks compensation for expenses and losses that are caused by the accident or injury. These are calculated from the time the injury happened until the time the person died. A survival action is similar to a personal injury lawsuit that the person who died could have brought for themselves if they were still alive. Since the person can no longer bring a lawsuit on their own behalf, their family can bring it for them.

The types of losses that may be compensated in a Pennsylvania survival action include:

  • Medical and hospital expenses that are related to the injury
  • Pain and suffering caused by the injury
  • Lost wages from the time of the injury until the time of death
  • Emotional distress caused by the injury
  • Funeral expenses and estate administration costs

Who Can File a Survival Action or a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania?

A survival action must be filed by a personal representative (or administrator or executor) of the estate. The representative brings the action on behalf of the beneficiaries who are named in the will. However, if the personal representative does not file a survival action within six months, then any of the beneficiaries may file.

The rules for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit are different. A member of the immediate family may file the claim.

Any beneficiary who is named in the will, including non-relatives and charitable organizations, is eligible to recover under a survival action. However, only parents, children, or a spouse can receive compensation from a wrongful death claim.

Are There Other Differences Between Survival Actions and Wrongful Death Claims?

There are differences in the way that compensation obtained from these two types of claims gets taxed. There are also differences in how the compensation is distributed to the family or other beneficiaries. Because of the complexity of these claims under the state’s law, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney.

When Can I File a Survival Action or Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Usually, you must file these claims within two years of the death. If you miss the deadlines, you will not be able to file, so it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as you can.

What Will I Have to Prove to Win a Survival Action or Wrongful Death Case in Pennsylvania?

To win a case involving wrongful death, you and your attorney will need to prove four things:

  1. The person whose actions or negligence caused your loved one’s death had a legal duty not to do what they did.
  2. They violated that duty.
  3. Their wrongful act or negligence was a cause of your loved one’s death.
  4. You have losses because of that death.

To prove some of these claims, you will need substantial evidence, including experts who can investigate and testify about what happened.

The Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer Want to Help

The trial attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer have been fighting for the rights of people in Pennsylvania for more than 50 years. We have the knowledge, experience, and dedication to guide you through the complex wrongful death claim process and see that you get the compensation you deserve for your tragic loss. To find out more about how we can help, please contact us using our online form.

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