Wrongful death and survivor lawsuits in Pennsylvania

When a loved one dies after a catastrophic accident, there are many different emotions and stressors impacting the family left behind. When death is the result of a catastrophic accident caused by another’s negligence, there are two different statutes in Pennsylvania that compensate the family for the loss: wrongful death and survival claims. You have two years after the death to sue under these laws.

Claims under the wrongful death act

A wrongful death action compensates the loved ones of the victim for the economic loss they suffer because of the victim’s untimely passing, and includes emotional and psychological harm. Under § 8301 of the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, damages are distributed directly to the beneficiaries pursuant to the state’s intestacy laws, and are not recoverable by the creditors of the deceased, nor are there any estate (inheritance) or income taxes levied. Awards are measured on estimates of income the deceased would have generated during the remainder of his or her life, and include medical, funeral and estate administration costs.

Section 8301(b) directs any award be distributed according to state intestacy laws, even if there was a will. Distribution becomes more complex with stepchildren, foster children or kids born outside of marriage in the picture. Depending on the family structure, the spouse of the deceased will get a portion of the award with the residue distributed to any remaining heirs. 

Claims under the survival act

Wrongful death damages are paid directly to beneficiaries as a result of harm they suffer because their loved one was injured and died; but survival actions under § 8302 are different. In a survival action, the award is paid to the beneficiaries because they have stepped into the shoes of their loved one to recover on their behalf. Since the harm resulted in death, it goes to the beneficiaries instead of the deceased. Because of this distinction, the award is distributed differently and is subject to inheritance taxes and used to satisfy the debts of the deceased. The remaining damages go to the heirs as specified in the will or by the laws of intestacy if there was no will.

Both actions can be brought in a single lawsuit. If there is recovery under both laws, then the court breaks up the funds which would be paid to the beneficiaries or estate accordingly.