Request a Free Consultation

What Damages are Allowed in a Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Case?

Posted on October 31, 2022

When another party is responsible for a loved one’s death, surviving family members can hold the party accountable in a wrongful death lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, there are two types of damages you can recover: Compensatory and Punitive damages. 

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are the most common form of compensation awarded in wrongful death cases. This type of damages provides reimbursement for both economic and non-economic losses. 

Economic Losses

Common examples include:

  • Medical bills and injury-related expenses from the accident that caused a loved one’s death. 
  • Loss of the deceased’s future income and benefits
  • Loss of inheritance 
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Legal fees

Non-economic losses

Non-economic looses are subjective and not easily calculable. Common Examples Include: 

  • Loss of the deceased’s companionship 
  • Loss of support and services that the victim provided, such as childcare
  • Loss of parental guidance
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not as common and only awarded in cases where the court finds that the defendant was particularly reckless or exhibited egregious conduct. The court will review two factors when determining whether punitive damages should be granted: 1) the reprehensibility of the defendant’s (at-fault party’s) conduct and 2) what amount of money is necessary to deter the defendant and others from similar behavior. Examples of wrongful cases where punitive damages are often awarded involve drunk driving accidents or medical malpractice. 

Modified Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania allows the above damages in a wrongful death case, but that does not mean surviving family members will recover them all or in their entirety. Under the state’s modified comparative negligence law, whether the deceased victim contributed to the accident that caused their death is considered. As a result, this law reduces a wrongful death settlement or award based on the victim’s percentage of fault. For example, if a surviving family is awarded $500,000, but their loved one was found 20 percent to blame for their accident, they will only receive 80% of the award, or $400,000. However, if the deceased victim was 51% or more at fault, their surviving family cannot recover any compensation. 

Who Can Recover Damages in a Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Case?

Per Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws that govern how property is distributed, a wrongful death award can be divided as follows: 

  • If there is a surviving spouse and children, the spouse will receive the first $30,000 and half of the remaining amount. The children will equally divide the other half of the remaining amount.
  • If the deceased had a spouse but no surviving children or parents, the entire award goes to the spouse. 
  • If there are children but no spouse, the entire award is divided equally between the children.
  • If there is a surviving spouse and parents but no children, the spouse receives the first $30,000 and half of the rest, and the parents divide the remaining half. 
  • If there are surviving parents but no spouse or children, the parents must equally divide the award.

In Pennsylvania, only the representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death case on behalf of all eligible surviving family members. However, a family member of the deceased can pursue a case if the deceased did not have a will or if the estate representative has not filed a claim within six months of the deceased’s death.