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Wrongful Death Actions in Pennsylvania

The purpose of the Wrongful Death Statute, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301, is to compensate the decedent’s relatives for their lossTulewicz v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 529 Pa. 588, 606 A.2d 427, 431 (1992). A wrongful death action does not compensate the decedent; it compensates the survivors (spouse, parents, children) for damages which they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death. The damages recovered are therefore not part of the decedent’s estate; rather, they constitute compensation to the individual family members for their loss. Tulewicz., 606 A.2d at 431.  These damages can include the value of the services the victim who died would have rendered to his family if he had lived.” Slaseman v. Myers, 309 Pa.Super. 537, 545, 455 A.2d 1213, 1218 (1983).

Under the wrongful death act the widow or family is entitled, in addition to costs, to compensation for the loss of the contributions decedent would have made for such items as shelter, food, clothing, medical care, education, entertainment, gifts and recreationLinebaugh v. Lehr, 351 Pa.Super. 135, 505 A.2d 303, 304-305 (1986).  Under Pennsylvania law, a child can recover in a wrongful death action for the loss of companionship, comfort, society and guidance of a parent. Steiner by Steiner v. Bell Telephone Co., 358 Pa.Super. 505, 510, 517 A.2d 1348, 1356 (1986), aff’d. 518 Pa. 57, 540 A.2d 266 (1988). This element of damages has also been described as “loss of guidance, tutelage, and moral upbringing.” Buchecker v. Reading Co., 271 Pa.Super. 35, 57, 412 A.2d 147, 158 (1979).

The damages recovered under a wrongful death action brought for the benefit of the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, whether or not citizens or residents of the Commonwealth or elsewhere, will be distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion they would take the personal estate of the decedent in the case of intestacy and without liability to creditors of the deceased person under the statutes of Pennsylvania.10 Summ. Pa. Jur. 2d Probate, Estates, and Trusts § 12:31 (2d ed.). Awards pursuant to wrongful death claims, therefore, pass outside of the decedent’s taxable probate estate under Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax provisions, and any claims by a decedent’s creditors cannot be made against a wrongful death award.  In re Estate of Merryman, 669 A.2d 1059 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1995). Thus, a child’s share of a wrongful death award under a federal statute is not subject to payment of the decedent’s debts where the federal statute makes proceeds directly payable not to the estate, but to the personal representative on behalf of the decedent’s surviving spouse and children.  In re Sibilia’s Estate, 279 Pa. 459, 124 A. 137 (1924).

If you belive you have a claim for the wrongful death of a spouse, child or parent, please contact an attorney at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green, with offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attorneys licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.