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Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Loved One Has Been Murdered in Pennsylvania?

Posted on September 30, 2022

After a loved one has been murdered in Pennsylvania, surviving family members have the right to file a wrongful death claim. Even if the defendant (at-fault party) has yet to face criminal charges, has been tried, or convicted, a wrongful death claim is a separate civil matter.  

Definition of Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law (42 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 8301), a loss of life is considered a wrongful death when it is “caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” In other words, another party either failed to exercise reasonable care or deliberately caused an individual harm, leading to a victim’s death. Other than murder, wrongful deaths often occur in negligent-based accidents such as medical malpractice, car accidents, workplace accidents, slip and fall accidents, etc. If the deceased had survived, they could have pursued a personal injury lawsuit. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Loved One Has Been Murdered in Pennsylvania?

Only the representative of the deceased’s estate can legally file a wrongful death claim after a loved one is murdered. They will do so on behalf of all eligible surviving family members. However, if the deceased did not have a will, a family member can volunteer as the personal representative, or the court will appoint someone. The personal representative of the deceased’s estate has six months to file a wrongful death claim. After that, any beneficiary can begin the claims process.

What Types of Compensation Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Surviving family members can potentially recover the following types of compensation: 

  • Any medical bills for the injuries which led to the victim’s death;
  • Funeral, cremation, or burial expenses;
  • Loss of the expected income and benefits; 
  • Reduction in the inheritance suffered by surviving children;
  • Loss of parental guidance;
  • Loss of support and services that the victim provided;
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice;
  • Compensation for the deceased’s conscious pain and suffering before their death;
  • Estate administration expenses; and,
  • Interest on top of the compensation awarded.

When wrongful death cases involve a defendant who committed murder, the court will often award punitive damages as well. This type of compensation is meant to punish malicious and egregious behavior and to deter others from committing a similar crime. 

How Is Compensation From a Wrongful Death Claim Distributed? 

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death settlement will be divided according to the state’s intestate succession laws, regardless of whether the deceased had a will or not. Those stipulations are as follows: 

  • If the decedent was married and did not have surviving children or parents, the entire award will go to the spouse. 
  • If there are children but no spouse, the entire settlement will be divided equally among the children.
  • If there is a surviving spouse and children, the spouse will receive the first $30,000 and half of the remaining amount. The other half will be divided equally between the children.
  • If there is a surviving spouse and parents but no children, the spouse will receive the first $30,000 and half of the rest, and the parents will divide the other half. 
  • If there are surviving parents but no spouse or children, the parents will split the money equally.

When the deceased does not have a surviving spouse, child, or parent, the estate’s personal representative can still seek compensation but only for funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, and estate administration expenses.