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Wrongful Deaths & Car Accidents in Pennsylvania

Posted on March 22, 2022

If a car accident is responsible for the death of a loved one, the at-fault party may be liable if the collision was caused due to a reckless, negligent, or intentional act. When that is the case, under Pennsylvania law, the surviving family members have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim. 

A wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury lawsuit, with the key difference being that the wrongfully killed victim is no longer able to bring their own claim. In their place, another individual must pursue the case to hold the responsible party accountable. A Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer can hold the negligent parties accountable and responsible for the pain and suffering caused. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim After an Accident in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania limits the persons who may file a wrongful death lawsuit to:

  • The person named as the personal representative of the victim’s estate, if the deceased had a will; or,
  • If the deceased did not have a will, a family member or friend can volunteer with the court’s approval, or the court will appoint someone.  

Although the estate is responsible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, any money recovered is distributed according to the deceased’s will or the state’s intestate succession law. However, under Pennsylvania law, if the estate representative fails to file a claim within six months of the victim’s death, any family member or chosen representative can pursue the case. In most cases, wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the date of a loved one’s death, under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations. If the lawsuit is not filed within that time, the family will likely lose their chance of obtaining compensation. 

What Damages Can Be Recovered After a Fatal Car Accident?

There are two types of damages often awarded in wrongful death claims, economic damages, which provide reimbursement for actual financial losses, and non-economic damages, which is compensation for subjective losses. The damages awarded will vary based on the circumstances of each case and may include: 

  • Medical bills related to the death;
  • Funeral, cremation, or burial costs;
  • Loss of the victim’s expected wages; 
  • Loss of benefits;
  • Reduction in the inheritance suffered by surviving children;
  • Loss of parental guidance;
  • Loss of support and services that the victim provided, such as childcare;
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice.
  • Conscious pain and suffering the deceased endured prior to their death; and,
  • Interest on top of the damages awarded, calculated from the date of death. 

In cases of extreme negligence or willful intent, punitive damages may also be awarded. Unlike other types of compensation, punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party and deter others from committing similar reckless acts.


How Do Lawyers Prove a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident?

To successfully recover compensation in a Pennsylvania wrongful death case requires proof of the following elements:

Duty of Care

The defendant (at-fault party) owed the deceased a duty of care—for example, all drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road to follow traffic laws and operate their vehicle safely.

Breach of Duty

The defendant breached their duty of care by failing to use reasonable care to avoid injury to others—for example, a driver who texted while driving or drove while intoxicated.


The defendant’s breach of their duty of care directly caused the individual’s death—for example, the deceased would not have suffered the injuries that led to their death if the other driver had been paying attention to the road rather than texting. 


As a result of their loved one’s death, the surviving family suffered losses (e.g., medical bills, loss of income, loss of companionship, etc.). 

Causation is the most challenging element to prove in many cases. The reason is that the at-fault party may try to shift the blame onto the victim or another party. If they can prove the victim or another party was 51 percent or more at fault, the defendant can avoid liability.