While everyone needs to work so that they can pay their bills and obligations, people expect a safe working environment where they do not have to risk life or limb. Many employers do take a number of preventative actions to protect their workers. While there are many reasons employers may take preventative steps they can include a sense of duty, reduction of costs, reduction of work disruptions, or because the law requires it.
However, it is an unfortunate fact of life that workplace injuries and workplace deaths do occur. Sometimes the accident may be due to insufficient safety protocols or equipment. In other instances, cost-cutting and time pressures may lead to injury. Still, in other cases, the worker may contribute to his or her own death.
In short, there is a myriad of reasons why workplace deaths occur. However, if the unthinkable has occurred and your loved one has been killed at work, the attorneys of the Reiff Law Firm may be able to obtain compensation for your loss. Call (215) 709-6940 to review your options.
What is Considered a “Wrongful Death” at Work?
“Wrongful death” occurs when a person is killed because of the negligence or misconduct of another person or entity. For example, someone could lose their life in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Surviving family members might be able to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their financial losses and emotional devastation.
Unfortunately, people suffer fatal injuries while at work. Some employees engage in dangerous activities as part of their job. However, deadly accidents occur in all professions. A computer programmer could be killed while driving to a client’s office.
When someone is killed in a workplace accident, the surviving family could be entitled to compensation through workers’ compensation benefits or a wrongful death lawsuit. Under many circumstances, surviving relatives will be prohibited from filing a lawsuit against the deceased employer due to restrictions under workers’ compensation law.
However, when a death is caused by a third party, someone not directly employed by the same employer, a wrongful death lawsuit might be advisable. For example, if your loved one was killed by a drunk driver while making a delivery, the drunk driver could be held liable outside a workers’ compensation claim. In some construction accidents, an employee could be fatally injured because of an equipment malfunction. If the defect existed in the manufacturing or design process, the company that made the equipment could be held accountable.
If an employer was unreasonably negligent or their conduct was intentional, such as refusing to implement industry-standard safety precautions, they could potentially be held liable for wrongful death. If you believe your loved one died because of their employer’s misconduct, contact a Philadelphia wrongful death attorney.
Why Do Deaths Occur in the Workplace?
According to statistics compiled and provided by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 5,333 workers were killed while working in 2019. That averages to 102 worker deaths each week or 14 each day. Of those worker deaths, OSHA reports that nearly 1 in 5 were in the construction industry. Falls made up a plurality of injuries with 880 deaths. All other causes of construction deaths were measured at less than 10-percent including:
- 518 workers were killed when struck by an object
- 166 workers lost their lives due to electrocution accidents
- 120 workers were killed when caught in or trapped
OSHA has termed these four areas as the “Fatal Four” and notes that eliminating these causes of injuries would save 1,684 lives each year.
Surviving Relatives That are Able to File a Claim in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania law, a wrongful death lawsuit can only be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. The claim is brought for all eligible heirs who are entitled to recover damages. However, if a personal representative does not file a wrongful death action within six months of the death, any eligible heir is permitted to file a claim.
Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws dictate who is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Therefore, the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and parents are permitted to file and recover damages through a wrongful death action.
It is important to note that potential heirs do not have to be citizens of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the court will consolidate all potential beneficiaries into one single claim. This means that if someone who has standing files a wrongful death claim, you are not permitted to file your own action. Nonetheless, if you have a legitimate claim, you should share any recovery. To understand your rights and obligations, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney.
Proving Negligence Following a Pennsylvania Workplace Death
The benefit of a workers’ compensation claim is you are not required to prove negligence or fault. However, if you wish to file a wrongful death claim for a work-related fatality, you will have to prove negligence. No matter what occurred, you will have to demonstrate for elements: duty of care, a violation of that duty, causation, and damages. What it requires to establish each element will depend on the circumstances surrounding the death and the defendant.
For example, if your loved one was killed in a car accident while making a delivery, then our Pennsylvania wrongful death attorneys will have to prove that the at-fault driver breached their duty of care and caused your loved one’s fatal injuries.
When a person is killed because of the negligence of their employer, it becomes more challenging in establishing the four factors. If your loved one failed to follow safety procedures, then their employer is probably not liable. However, if the company failed to provide adequate training or did not implement safety precautions, it could constitute negligence and grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Evidence and documentation are crucial in any wrongful death action, whether the death occurred at work or elsewhere. Internal emails, memos, and eyewitness testimony from other workers are valuable sources of evidence. Wrongful death claims are rarely cut and dry. The Reiff Law Firm has the lawyers, staff, and resources to handle the most complex work-related wrongful death claim.
Is There a Time Limit on Your Claim?
Most states and most causes of action have a time limit on when they must be filed by. This is known as a statute of limitation. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitation for wrongful death actions is two years. What that means is if your loved one has been killed at work, you must file your claim within two years of his or her death. If you fail to do so your claim will be barred and you will be unable to hold the responsible party accountable.
What Types of Damages are Available in a Workplace Wrongful Death Case in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act allows certain closely related family members to recover monetary damages for the wrongful death of their loved one. As defined by 42 Pa. C.S. 8301(b) the deceased party’s family may file a claim for medical expenses, lost wages, lost contributions to the household, funeral expenses, estate expenses, and more. Because grief and emotional damages can be difficult to quantify, an experienced wrongful death attorney can often be integral in helping the jury, judge and other parties gain a full understanding of the loss.
When a work-related wrongful death occurs, a victim’s heirs might be able to seek wrongful death and survival damages.
Wrongful Death Damages
Under Pennsylvania law, the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased could recover damages for financial support and lost companionship. Additionally, they could be compensated for reasonable medical expenses, hospital costs, funeral expenses, and any administrative costs resulting from the death. The surviving heirs will receive their share of the awarded compensation under Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws. The proceeds will be disbursed in the same manner as if the deceased died without a will. However, if a will existed, it would have no impact on the compensation awarded through a wrongful death lawsuit. Just because the damages are divided according to Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws, it does not mean that the family must probate the estate. Furthermore, proceeds received as wrongful death damages are not considered taxable income.
In addition to wrongful death damages, the heirs could file a survival action. Survival damages are losses the deceased would have been entitled to recovery if they had not died, such as pain and suffering. Proceeds from a survival action are not paid to the heirs. Any financial compensation that is awarded is administrated through probate. A personal representative distributes the proceeds according to the deceased’s will or, if there is no will, according to the intestacy laws. Unlike damages received in a wrongful death claim, survival damages are taxed. The deceased’s personal representative is required to pay inheritance and estate tax. Furthermore, if any creditors have valid claims against the deceased’s estate, they could be paid through the proceeds. Once taxes and creditors have been paid, the damages would be disbursed among the surviving heirs.
Our Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Help
If you have recently lost a loved one, you undoubtedly have quite a lot on your mind — that is perfectly understandable and a normal part of the grieving process. However, do not put off consulting with an experienced lawyer. We understand that recounting the events and circumstances may be painful, but it is a necessary step in seeking justice and compensation. To schedule your free and confidential wrongful death consultation, call the Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 or contact us online today.