Filing a Lawsuit for a Fatal Commercial Trucking Accident (Pennsylvania)
Few drivers of cars, motorcycles, or SUVs are ever thrilled about sharing the road with large commercial trucks and eighteen-wheelers. Still, the use of big rigs to carry goods is an integral part of the American economy. While most of the time, passenger vehicles and commercial trucks can co-exist when there is an accident or collision involving a large truck, the results are typically grim. The large size and massive weights of these vehicles often lead to severe injuries and wrongful death when an accident occurs. If your family member was killed in a commercial trucking accident in Pennsylvania, you should work with a skilled Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer for commercial truck accidents so that we could help you seek justice for your loved one.
The Reiff Law Firm recognizes the pain that a family could experience when a family member dies in a tragic trucking accident, and we are here to stand with you. Our team of wrongful death lawyers possesses several years of experience litigating many types of fatal commercial trucking accidents, and we are prepared to use our knowledge to help you seek the compensation that you deserve. To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation to discuss your potential wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent trucking company, you should call the Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940. You could also contact the firm online to schedule your free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Commercial Truck Accident Wrongful Death Action?
Under the common law from which Pennsylvania and U.S. law developed, a person was not permitted to bring suit for the losses suffered due to the death of a loved one. However, Pennsylvania’s legislature and modern law have corrected this peculiarity by enacting a Wrongful Death Act.
The Wrongful Death Act allows a child, spouse, or parent to sue for the losses they suffer after the death of their close family member. Wrongful death damages may include funeral expenses, expenses incurred in the administration of the deceased’s estate, and medical expenses.
Additionally, other pecuniary losses or the loss experienced when a bread-winner is killed. Part of pecuniary damages is those of the loss of contribution the surviving plaintiff would have received from the time of the decedent’s death to the date of the award. These damages could include:
- Rent for an apartment
- Mortgage payments for a home
- Medical treatment
Another type of pecuniary loss could include the present value of the services that the deceased would have rendered to the family if he or she had survived. Pennsylvania courts interpret the term services broadly and do not constrain it to simply mean the tasks and other things that you do for a household. In Rettger, the court held that services were not limited to tasks such as the yard work that was at issue. Rather, services also include the deep emotional and psychological loss when the plaintiff knows that negligence caused the parent, spouse, or child’s death—Rettger v. UPMC, 991 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 2010).
However, because a wrongful death action is focused on the losses suffered by the surviving family member or members, the pain and suffering of the deceased individual is not typically relevant or available. However, in many instances, damages for your loved one’s pain and suffering may be available through a survival action.
Proving Negligence in a Commercial Truck Accident Wrongful Death Action
Before you could be awarded damages in a wrongful death action, you will first have to prevail in your claim. Wrongful death actions typically require the plaintiff to show how the defendant’s negligent actions caused the death of their loved one.
To prove your case, you will need extensive evidence. There are many types of evidence that you could use in your case. For example, if you have witnesses that will testify that the truck driver was driving erratically prior to the crash, this could be used to prove your claim. Photos of injuries and property damage could also help prove your case.
To prove negligence in a wrongful death action for a commercial trucking accident, you will have to prove the following elements:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care
- The defendant breached their duty of care to the victim (e.g., speeding while driving a commercial truck)
- The victim sustained injuries as a result of the defendant’s actions
If you need assistance to prove your wrongful death lawsuit, you should work with our experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorney.
Liability for a Commercial Truck Accident
If your family member was killed in a commercial truck accident, you should be aware of the parties that could be held liable. The driver of the commercial truck will likely be the primary individual that could be held accountable in a court of law. However, the employer of the truck driver could also be responsible.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer could be held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee. For the actions of the employee to be attributed to the employer, the negligent act must occur within the scope of the employment. For example, if a truck driver was exhausted while driving and caused a fatal accident, their employer may be vicariously liable for their negligence.
Survival Actions Are Often Filed Together with a Trucking Accident Wrongful Death Suit
Although damages for pain and suffering are not available in wrongful death actions, they are in a survival action. Pennsylvania’s Survival Act permits a cause of action to remain despite the death of the individual.
Through a survival action, one may “recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8301. However, pain and suffering that was not experienced because the individual was unconscious, unaware, or killed instantly are not compensable. Pain and suffering that the decedent was aware of and experienced are, however, compensable.
To learn more about when to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent truck driver or their employer, you should continue reading and speak with an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.
When to File a Wrongful Death Commercial Truck Accident Lawsuit
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit after your loved one was killed in a commercial truck accident, you should be aware that you do not have an unlimited amount of time to file your case with a court of law. In fact, due to the statute of limitations, you may only have a strict deadline on when your wrongful death claim must be filed. We know that this is a difficult matter as you are likely still grieving the loss of your family member.
The statute of limitations is subject to change depending on the laws of the state where the cause of action is being pursued and the circumstances of the victim’s case. For instance, you may be provided with more time to file a medical malpractice claim than the amount of time provided for a wrongful death lawsuit. As a result, please avoid making any assumptions about the filing date for your case without consulting an experienced attorney first.
In Pennsylvania, a potential plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit has up to two years from the date of the decedent’s death. Additionally, if you are filing a survival action instead of a wrongful death action, the statute of limitations will run from the date of the decedent’s fatal injury. For example, your potential survival action would begin from the day your family member sustained their injuries in a commercial truck accident prior to their death. If you are seeking a wrongful death lawsuit in another state, you should be aware that all states do not have uniform statute of limitations deadlines.
If you do not succeed in filing your lawsuit within two years, the defendant in the case could move to dismiss the lawsuit due to the violation of the statute of limitations. If this happens, the court will dismiss the case with prejudice, which means that the plaintiff will be unable to pursue their lawsuit in the future.
Our firm understands the hardship facing a family after losing a loved one, and we are here to help ensure that your wrongful death action is promptly filed with a court of law.
Put Our Truck Accident Wrongful Death Experience to Work for You
If your loved one has been killed because of the carelessness or recklessness of another motorist or due to an auto defect, you may be able to recover monetary damages. The Reiff Law Firm is here to provide you and your family with the diligent legal representation needed to litigate a wrongful death lawsuit that arose from a fatal truck accident. We understand that considering legal action is a difficult decision to even consider after the death of a loved one, and we are here to address your concerns. You do not have to handle your wrongful death lawsuit alone. To schedule a free and confidential case evaluation with a Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney, call the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940, or contact us online.