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When Can Family Members Sue for Wrongful Death After a Loss?

Goldstein Heslop Steele Clapper Oswalt & Smith Dec. 10, 2021

In the wake of a tragic loss, many people get by through the power of denial. Often considered the first stage of the grieving process, a sense of unreality or denial about the unexpected death of a family member can make it easier for you to handle the financial, medical and social obligations that arrive after a tragic incident and death.

However, eventually, you are likely to experience depression, bargaining, acceptance and also anger. People often experience these different feelings simultaneously or completely out of order. Denial might prevent you initially from taking action against the person responsible for your loved one’s death, such as a drunk driver who caused a crash. However, when the anger stage strikes, you may experience an overwhelming desire for justice from the legal system.

How can you determine if you have grounds for a wrongful death action after a loved one dies in Pennsylvania?

One of Two Factors Must Be Present for A Wrongful Death Claim

Pennsylvania law defines a wrongful death as a fatality that results from the illegal or wrongful acts of another or their neglect or negligence.

When someone breaks the law or does something obviously wrong, that can mean that surviving family members have a right to hold that person accountable for the death they cause. The same is true of situations where someone’s inaction or neglect cause death.

If the average, reasonable adult would agree that what someone did wasn’t appropriate, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim based on negligence.

You Need a Close Family Relationship with The Deceased Individual

Not just anyone can file a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania. Dependent family members are the ones with the legal right to pursue and benefit from a wrongful death claim when someone dies. Spouses and children usually have first priority for such filings, although parents can also file a claim if the person who died had neither a spouse nor children.

If your relationship and the circumstances of your loved one’s death meet the criteria for a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania, a civil lawsuit may be a way for your family to recover some of its financial losses and seek justice.