Let’s start by understanding just what constitutes wrongful death. According to Merriam-Webster, it is:
“a death caused by negligent, willful, or wrongful act, neglect, omission, or default of another.”
From a legal perspective, wrongful death allows the deceased’s estate or individuals close to the deceased to file a lawsuit against the offending party. Typically, the suit is filed by a representative of the deceased individual’s estate.
Is Wrongful Death a Felony?
Criminal cases originate from the state or federal government and include a public trial. They require a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. A wrongful death claim, on the other hand, originates with a family or surviving member and seeks to bring an action requesting monetary damages. The trial is usually private and the claim doesn’t request jail time, court fines or criminal punishment, just compensation.
Unlike a felony case, family members are not required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offending individual is at fault. All that is required is that the family and wrongful death attorney prove the defendant is more likely guilty than not.
Common Wrongful Death Cases
Any number of scenarios can result in a wrongful death claim, but the most common causes stem from:
- Car accidents
- Commercial trucking accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Workplace deaths
- Defective products
- Nursing home neglect and abuse
With any of these scenarios, there are four factors you and your wrongful death attorney are required to prove:
- Death must have occurred;
- That death was caused by the negligence of the defendant;
- That death directly impacted you or other family members;
- That death created a financial hardship for the survivors.
Wrongful death attorneys examine police reports, interview witnesses, analyze physical evidence, and conduct the most thorough investigation to support the claim and prove fault.
Damages Attached to Wrongful Death
Damages are governed by the Wrongful Death Act in Pennsylvania and allow for damages covering:
- All hospital, medical, funeral, burial, and estate administration costs
- Lost wages and benefits including amounts the deceased would have been expected to contribute during their life expectancy
- Compensation for the loss of household services, society, comfort, and moral guidance
- Compensation for pain and suffering
Any claim must be filed within two years of the deceased’s death otherwise it will not be heard by a court.
Wrongful Death Payments
Typically wrongful death suits are paid by insurance providers. In instances where the insurance liability coverage is insufficient, the defendant is held liable. Most wrongful death settlements are non-taxable according to the IRS and intended to account for the pain and suffering of the family. Punitive damages may be taxed.