Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Actions and Survival Actions – Exploring the Overlap

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    Pennsylvania Wrongful Death and Survival Actions are respectively codified under 42 Pa.C.S.§8301 and 42 Pa.C.S.§8302. These separate causes of actions often seem ambiguous to grieving family members and the nuances between them can seem convoluted. While these two causes of action share many similarities it is crucial to note that a Wrongful Death Action has been deemed to be “separate and distinct” from a survival action in the case of Tulewicz v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 606 A.2d 427, 431 (Pa. 1992). Our Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys explain.

    Wrongful Death Actions

    The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Statute was first approved on November 15, 1972, and has been amended several times over the last forty years. The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death statute maintains:

    An action may be brought, under procedures prescribed by general rules, to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another if no recovery for the same damages claimed in the wrongful death action was obtained by the injured individual during his lifetime and any prior actions for the same injuries are consolidated with the wrongful death claim so as to avoid a duplicate recovery.

    42 Pa. C.S. § 8301(a) By way of further explanation and as a simplistic clarification of this statute, a wrongful death claim is one that seeks to “recover damages (usually in the form of monetary compensation) for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.

    Wrongful Death Action Damages

    Damages awarded under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act are intended to compensate the decedent’s enumerated family members for damages arising as a result of the death, which includes recovery for loss of post-death services, including society and comfort whereas a loss of consortium claim is intended to compensate a surviving spouse; accordingly there is not a duplication of damages, as one award is for pre-death loss and the other is for that sustained post-death. Amato v. Bell & Gossett, 2015 PA Super 83, 116 A.3d 607 2015. In the case of McClinton v. White, 285 Pa. Super. 271, 284,427 A.2d 218, 224 (1979) the court clarified that a cause of action for wrongful death is possessed by certain specified relatives of the deceased who recover in their own behalf and not as beneficiaries of the estate. Damages, which are based on the pecuniary loss suffered by the statutory beneficiaries, are determined from the standpoint of the beneficiaries, not from the deceased.

    However, while the legislature and courts across the state have determined what sort of damages are compensable such as hospital, nursing, medical, funeral expenses, they have limited the damages a claimant could seek. In the case of Keller v. Feasterville Family Health Care Ctr., 557 F. Supp. 2d 671, (2008) the court was presented a wrongful death and medical malpractice action based on the decedent’s wife’s claims that her deceased husband died as a result of doctors failing to care for her husband who was suffering from pneumonia, and furthermore failed to diagnose a pulmonary embolism.  The wife sought damages for her own mental anguish and pain. The court found that since neither the Wrongful Death Statute nor the Survival Statute permitted recovery for grief and mental suffering, it could not be considered as a legally recoverable damage. See Keller v. Feasterville Family Health Care Ctr., 557 F. Supp. 2d 671, (2008). “[t]he action for wrongful death is a statutory creation, granting to the specified beneficiaries a right to recover pecuniary losses sustained by them by reason of the decedent’s death.” Ringler Estate, 36 Somerset L.J. 336, 341, 29 Fid. Rep. 499 (1979)

    Who Can Recover in Pennsylvania with the Help of a Wrongful Death Lawyer?

    As stated, the purpose of the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act is “to compensate certain enumerated relatives of the decedent for pecuniary loss sustained because they had been deprived of that portion of the decedent’s earnings which they would have received if the decedent had not died prematurely.” Bortner v. Gladfelter, 302 Pa. Super. 492, 497, 448 A.2d 1386, 1389 (1981) citing Pezzulli v. D’Ambrosia, 344 Pa. 643, 648-649, 26 A.2d 659, 661 (1942); Manning v. Capelli, 270 Pa. Super. 207, 211, 411 A.2d 252, 254 (1979). The statutory language specifically outlines those enumerated family members who may be entitled to damages such that the statute states the right of the action created by this section shall exist only for the benefit of the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, whether or not residents” of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301(b).  However, it should be noted that because this list of enumerated beneficiaries is somewhat limited, in the event that a deceased party does not have any family members, then a “personal representative of the deceased may bring an action to recover damages for reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, funeral expenses and expenses of administration necessitated by reason of injuries causing death.” 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8301(d).

    However, in order to meet the requirement of ‘pecuniary loss’, established by case law, the Superior Court [has held] that emancipated self-supporting children of the decedent may not share in the recovery.” Krause v. B&O Railroad, 33 Pa. D&C3d 458, 462-463 (1983); Kiser v. Schulte, 538 Pa. 219, 648 A.2d 1 (1994); Tulewicz v. SEPTA, 529 Pa. 588, 606 A.2d 427 (1992). Consult our Pennsylvania hospital wrongful death attorneys for more information regarding your case. Call (215) 709-6940 for a free consultation.