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Wrongful death: Who can file and what damages can be claimed?

When a loved one dies unexpectedly due to fatal injuries suffered in an accident, there can be significant financial consequences along with the emotional impact this has. Such tragedies can follow pedestrian, motorcycle, car or truck accidents. However, dangerous premises or unsafe consumer products can also cause unanticipated deaths. Negligence in some form is often the cause of accidental deaths.

If your family is in the throes of such a tragedy, you might have questions about your rights to pursue financial relief. You may have grounds to file a wrongful death claim in a Pennsylvania civil court. If such action is successful, you could recover economic and non-economic damages you sustained as the result of the death.

What is the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit?

You may file a wrongful death claim if there is proof of another person's negligence — regardless of whether the death followed intentional or accidental behavior. Also, you can file a civil lawsuit even if a criminal court found the defendant not guilty. The reason for this is the fact that a criminal court needs proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt while the civil court only requires the plaintiff to show liability based on a preponderance of the evidence.

What damages may you seek?

Plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit may typically include the surviving spouse and the children of the deceased. State laws will determine whether others, like stepchildren, parents and domestic partners, may receive damages. These laws also apply to the damages that you may claim, but the following are allowed in most states:

  • Medical expenses: If the loved one did not die instantly, you might have incurred medical expenses for treatment during the time leading up to the death.
  • End-of-life costs: If you had to cover the expenses of the arrangements for a funeral and burial, you may seek recovery of those costs.
  • Financial support: If the deceased person was your spouse, you might now face financial instability without his or her contribution to the family's income. You may claim loss of future earnings.
  • Physical and emotional support: You and any children you may have can seek compensation for the loss of nurturing, care, affection and love along with the services your loved one provided.
  • Inheritance loss: Your children may claim that the deceased parent will not be there to accumulate assets that would have formed their inheritances had he or she not died a wrongful death.
  • Pain and suffering: This typically refers to the emotional pain and suffering of the remaining family members.

Why do you need legal counsel?

An experienced attorney cannot only explain your legal rights but also help with the establishment of negligence and determining who to name as the defendants. Furthermore, a lawyer can also help you with putting values to the damages that are difficult to quantify. Along with this, his or her support and guidance will ease the ensuing legal proceedings.

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