A wrongful death claim is a suit that arises from the death of an individual that was caused by the wrongful conduct of another. A wrongful death suit is different from other types of personal injury claims because the actual victim (the "decedent") is not bringing suit. Rather, it is the family members or the decedent's estate that file suit. As such, a wrongful death claim is brought to recover damages for the injuries that the surviving family and/or estate have suffered due to the death of the victim. The damages recovered do not include damages that are personal to the decedent, since the decedent is not allowed to recover for pain and suffering, mental distress, or any other form of compensatory damages unique to him or her. The purpose of a wrongful death suit is to provide relief to family members who have been injured emotionally and financially as a result of the family member's death.
To file a wrongful death suit in Pennsylvania, you must show that the death of a person was caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default, and that the act, neglect, or default would have entitled the injured person to file an action to recover damages had the death not occurred. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8301. In addition, there must be surviving beneficiaries, children, or dependants of the victim, and monetary damages must have resulted from the decedent's death.
Pennsylvania law makes a distinction between persons who can file a wrongful death suit and persons who are beneficiaries. Only certain individuals can file wrongful death claims, and those that are allowed to sue do so on behalf of others. In Pennsylvania, a surviving spouse, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person may file a suit on behalf of the surviving spouse, children, or parents. A personal representative is a person appointed by the state of Pennsylvania to represent the beneficiaries. Siblings and cousins of the decedent do not have the right to bring the lawsuit unless they have been named as guardian or personal representative of the decedent, in which case they still have no right of recovery so long as there is a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the decedent. If there is no surviving spouse, child, or parent, however, siblings may file the suit on behalf of the decedent's estate and may participate in the recovery through the estate. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8301.