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What's a 'survival action' in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania has a proud and storied history. From being the state where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were written, debated, and signed to being the site of (arguably) the nation's first capital, the Keystone State has always led the way in many legal areas. One way in which Pennsylvania may have influenced some later states in their legal structures is in the fact that the state's constitution (as well as statute) provides that when someone dies due to personal injury caused by another, the right to a legal cause of action does not die with that individual. But what does this mean in terms of wrongful death lawsuits?

First, we must distinguish between the purposes of 'wrongful death' and 'survival' actions. Wrongful death actions, on the one hand, are generally brought by relatives of the deceased person to seek compensation for injury to themselves. That is, wrongful death claims seek to recover losses borne by the relatives of the victim. On the other hand, a survival action is meant to compensate the deceased him- or herself for the personal injuries suffered that led to the death.

While this might seem strange, one can imagine some ways in which these causes of action might diverge. A survival action, for example, is generally brought by the decedent's personal representative or executor, and any damages recovered will go to the person's estate, whereas in a wrongful death case, damage awards may go directly to the deceased's survivors. Further, there may be damages that cannot be recovered in a wrongful death suit that can be in a survival action, such as compensation for pain and suffering that may have occurred between the time of the injury and the death of the victim.

It should be realized by Pennsylvania residents that both wrongful death and survival actions can be pursued at the same time, as long as the damages awarded do not overlap. Because the difference between the two may seem esoteric and confusing to some laypersons, those with questions may wish to consider contacting an experienced wrongful death attorney.

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