Understanding the fundamentals of a wrongful death lawsuit

There is nothing worse than the feeling of losing a loved one. However, the situation is made even more difficult when a loved one's death was caused by the negligence of another person. In such a situation, family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Before doing so, it is best that Pennsylvanians who have lost their loved ones are aware of the merits of the legal action and what they may be facing during the legal process.

A "wrongful death" is defined as a death brought about by another person's misconduct or negligence. This covers deaths due to a motor vehicle accident, medical malpractice, and work-related incident, a loss of life in a supervised event or activity or death caused by criminal behavior. The legal action can be filed by family members, referred to as the victim's "estate," through a personal representative. In a wrongful death case, certain elements must be at hand for it to be successful. In addition to the death itself and the assertion of negligence, a case must show that family members incurred monetary distress because of the death.

Damages awarded to victims' families include pecuniary damages and punitive damages. Pecuniary damages, also known as financial damages, commonly include funeral expenses, loss of parental guidance and loss of support or income. If the victim was hospitalized, medical expenses can be considered damages as well. On the other hand, punitive damages are awarded by the court when the death is determined as done with malicious intent, to punish a perpetrator. It can also be awarded to deter other people from committing a similar act.

Pennsylvanians who file a wrongful death lawsuit may also encounter a situation where a negligent party decides to offer a settlement agreement. While family members have the prerogative to accept a settlement, it may be best to consider sound legal advice before doing so.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Wrongful Death Overview," accessed on Aug. 10, 2014

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