Losing a loved one unexpectedly due to another person’s careless or reckless actions is devastating. In addition to loss of companionship, families can struggle with financial hardships, especially if the deceased was the primary provider of the family.

While no amount of money could make up for the loss of a loved one, it could provide some financial stability as you move forward after suffering this tragedy. If you lost a loved one due to another’s actions, speak with a Bucks County wrongful death lawyer. A compassionate attorney can provide guidance and advice during this difficult time.

Survivor Rights in Bucks County

In Bucks County, 42 P.S. § 8301 governs wrongful death actions and permits the recovery for damages for an individual’s passing caused by the negligence of another. Under Pennsylvania law, spouses, children, and parents of the deceased can file a civil claim to recover compensation from the party responsible for the untimely passing of their loved one. If there are no eligible persons to recover damages as beneficiaries, the deceased’s estate’s personal representative has the right to recover for the reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, and funeral expenses for the estate.

Litigating wrongful death cases can be difficult to navigate without legal representation from a local attorney. This is because in addition to typical personal injury lawsuit requirements, the pleadings in a wrongful death case have additional requirements. Plaintiffs must state their relationship to the decedent, their right to bring the action, and the facts supporting the cause of action for compensatory damages. Failure to adequately plead a wrongful death case could result in dismissal by motion.

Types of Recovery After a Loved One’s Untimely Passing

Wrongful death cases can result from many claims, including car accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, defective products, and other instances of negligence. The common denominator of all these cases is that the death could have been prevented had the defendant met their standard of care. Lawyers in Bucks County can help determine who the correct defendant is in a wrongful death claim and hold them liable for damages.

While beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim can recover some of the same damages available in other civil claims, there are some losses unique to these claims. The family of the deceased could seek legal restitution for:

  • Funeral and ‘last rites’ expenses
  • Medical bills incurred before passing
  • Loss of consortium, or companionship and society
  • Earnings potential of the deceased

While it is impossible to place a dollar amount on the price of a life, dedicated attorneys can look at life expectancy tables, past cases, and jury verdicts to help families estimate potential financial recovery.

Calculating Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

External sources may provide a guide to valuing a damages award, but the specific facts of a case determine how much family members collect. Evidence of expenses and out-of-pocket costs, such as bills and receipts, provide a starting point. Knowledgeable local attorneys who frequently handle wrongful death cases will also consider other aspects of the decedent’s situation, such as their age, overall health, current wages, future earning potential, future benefits (pensions, health insurance, paid leave), and the passing family member’s suffering.

By assembling a full picture of the harm suffered by the departed and their family, wrongful death litigators may position claimants to put forward the most robust case for a fair recovery.

How are Damages Distributed Among Surviving Family Members?

A loved one’s passing is always emotional, especially when it happens suddenly and due to someone else’s negligence. Pursuing a wrongful death suit and disbursing any compensation may only intensify an already stressful situation. However, disputes over sharing such recoveries are unnecessary since Pennsylvania law outlines how to divide the compensation.

42 Pa. Stat. Cons. § 8301(b) links the distribution of awards to Pennsylvania’s intestacy law. Intestacy is when a person dies without a will and state law instructs how to distribute the estate. According to these rules, surviving spouses without related children receive 100 percent of the proceeds. When the deceased has a spouse and parents but no children, the spouse receives $30,000 off the top and 50 percent of the remainder. Surviving parents then split the outstanding amount.

If there are a spouse and children, they share the award, with the first $30,000 going to the spouse and the rest split between the spouse and children. In cases where only children outlive the decedent, they divide the award equally.

Surviving parents will split the entire award when no spouse or children remain, and if the only next of kin alive are siblings or nieces and nephews, they receive equal shares of any settlement or judgment.

In addition to relatives, the government may want its cut of the award. In most cases, wrongful death determinations are not subject to taxation, but damages that the decedent might have received if they had survived the accident may be taxable. Consulting with Bucks County attorneys experienced in wrongful death and survival claims may help recipients better understand their tax obligations.

What if the Decedent Contributed to the Accident?

Pennsylvania requires injured parties to assume responsibility for their actions.  If the deceased person played a role in causing their injuries and, ultimately, their passing, family members might receive less compensation than anticipated.

Under the theory of modified comparative negligence, found under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(a), plaintiffs may only recover damages equal to the blame assigned to other parties (i.e., the defendants). The right to recovery will be adjusted based on the decedent’s share of the blame, for instance, if they are 40 percent at fault, the family may recover only 60 percent of any judgment. However, if the deceased loved one is found to be 51 percent or more at fault for their fatal injuries, they and their family may not recover anything.

Seek Help from a Bucks County Wrongful Death Attorney

There is a limited time for the family of the deceased to file a claim. Under 42 P.S. § 5524, actions for wrongful passing cases must be commenced within two years of the death. This is a strict requirement that must be complied with to maintain an action for damages.

A Bucks County wrongful death lawyer can assist you with filing your claim, following up with the appropriate parties, and establishing a time frame to resolve your case. An understanding attorney can you to navigate the complex legal system and to develop a plan of moving forward after suffering a traumatic loss. Call now to get started.