When someone is taken from us too early it can be a great shock, leaving people with a huge amount of grief, and wondering why the wrongful death happened in the first place. This is especially true if someone was unexpectedly killed in a car wreck, a worksite accident, during a medical procedure or due to someone else’s negligence, reckless behavior or violence.
Even though grief persists in this dark period, life goes on for the surviving family members after the untimely death of a loved one. Unfortunately, bills still have to be paid, people have to go to work, a funeral has to be arranged and mouths have to be fed.
This is the worst possible time to have to worry about money, and while no amount of compensation can make up for a loved one’s premature death, families should not have to pay for the long-term financial ramifications of a deadly accident that was the fault of another person, employer, medical professional or faulty product.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a legal term used in civil cases for a death caused by another’s negligence. Lawsuits can be filed by immediate surviving family members, such as a spouse, parent or child or someone assigned as a personal representative. If someone is to blame for the death of your loved one, even if they were cleared of criminal charges, either he or she (or their insurance company) could be held liable for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
As a close family member or a dependent of the deceased, you may be entitled to collect compensation for any of the following financial burdens:
- Lost wages and future lost wages of the deceased
- Lost benefits
- Lost inheritance
- End of life expenses and funeral costs
- Hospital and medical costs
- Projected future financial contributions (mortgage & tuition)
- Loss of a loved one
- Compensation for loss of household services and other support
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Punitive damages / Exemplary damages
We work with families to deal with the insurance companies involved. These insurance companies also have attorneys working for them in order to pay you the minimum amount possible. We will aggressively fight the insurance companies and their attorneys in order to get you the full compensation you deserve.
Causes of Wrongful Death
Wrongful death can happen in any type of accident where another person, doctor or medical professional, organization, company or manufacturer is to blame for someone else’s premature death.
Even if a person is cleared of criminal charges, such as in a car accident for example, they can still be held liable and their insurance company could be forced to pay the compensation owed to the family of the deceased.
Wrongful death can be the result of any of the following:
- Car accidents
- Construction accidents
- Construction worksite falls
- Trucking accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Boating accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Faulty medical devices
- Defective drugs / Pharmaceuticals
- Premises liability
- Slip and fall accidents
- Marcellus shale accidents
- Dog attacks
- Chemical explosions
- Nursing home accidents
- Acts of violence
Gathering Evidence for a Wrongful Death Case
Families who have recently lost a loved one have a great amount to deal with, and the last thing they should be doing in their grief is trying to collect medical records and accident reports. However, after an accident it is critical to start investigating the case right away so that all evidence can be collected in order to build a strong and winnable case.
Fortunately, you do not have to do this alone. Our attorneys have compassion and empathy for what you and your family are going through and we will take charge of gathering the evidence for your case. You will not ever have to pay us unless we make a recovery for you.
We will start as soon as possible in speaking to witnesses, gathering police reports and filing the necessary paperwork.
Who’s Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under Pennsylvania law, wrongful death claims can only be filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Typically, the personal representative is an executor that was named in the deceased’s will. If the deceased died without a will, surviving family members can volunteer to become the personal representative of the estate and thus be eligible to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages. If no one volunteers, the court will appoint someone to represent the estate.
The personal representative eligible to bring a wrongful death claim in a Pennsylvania court never files the claim on his or her own behalf. Rather, the wrongful death is filed on behalf of all eligible beneficiaries who are eligible to receive any amount of wrongful death settlement as part of the court award. “In Pennsylvania, the only surviving family members who are eligible to be beneficiaries in wrongful death cases are the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and the parents,” says our Pittsburgh wrongful death attorney from SMT Legal. “To qualify as a beneficiary in a wrongful death claim, the eligible surviving family members must demonstrate that they suffered economic and non-economic damages due to the loss of their loved one.”
What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims?
“Statute of limitations” is simply a legal term used to describe the time frame in which you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, if the personal representative of the estate has not pursued a claim within six months from the deceased’s death, any qualified beneficiary will be eligible to file it.
In our state, there is a two-year limit from the date of the death to bring a wrongful death claim. Since these cases tend to be rather complex and it can take years for surviving family members to receive their compensation, it is critical that the process of bringing an action for wrongful death begins as quickly as possible.
What Factors Affect a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
There are many different independent and unique factors that might affect your wrongful death settlement or award.
Our Pittsburgh personal injury attorney has outlined a few major factors that might affect your compensation in a wrongful death suit:
- Damages sustained: The value of a wrongful death case has a direct link to the number of damages sustained by each eligible beneficiary after the death of their family member. For example, a claim after the death of a 22-year-old unemployed unmarried young man who only had parents might be drastically lower than that filed after the death of a 39-year-old employed married man with four children. Most of the time, beneficiaries can compensate for the loss of future income, loss of companionship, lost benefits, mentoring, and a plethora of other economic and non-economic damages.
- Insurance coverage: The worth of a wrongful death award or settlement is also affected by how much insurance coverage the wrongful death defendant has. Unfortunately, in many wrongful death lawsuits, the amount of money collected by the surviving family members is limited to the amount of the at-fault party’s available insurance coverage.
- Evidence: The success and value of a wrongful death lawsuit also depend on the strength of the evidence presented by the claimant in court. The more compelling your evidence, the higher the likelihood of receiving a higher payout faster than anticipated. To collect compelling evidence for your case, it is important to hire an attorney who will conduct a thorough investigation into your case.
- Lawyer: The more experienced the lawyer that you hire for your case is, the more likely you are to seek maximum compensation for all the damages caused by the death of your loved one.
How SMT Legal Can Help
Whether you or your loved one was killed in an accident or is the victim of medical malpractice, we are here to guide you and your family through a difficult time. We will meticulously evaluate your medical records, police logs and accident reports and consult with the medical experts to prove who was at fault for the tragedy. We want to help you hold those to blame for the death of your loved one, and their insurance companies, accountable for the money they owe you. Contact SMT Legal to discuss your case.