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Who can recover damages in a wrongful death action?

Many Pennsylvania residents have an expansive definition of who they consider family. Family may include not only the traditional persons typically thought of, but others as well who are close loved ones.

In the legal system, however, there may still be specific family definitions that apply in certain circumstances. Last week, for example, this blog discussed how surviving family members may bring a wrongful death action when their loved one has passed away because of another person's negligence.

Pennsylvania law defines certain categories of persons who may bring such an action and recover damages.

Under the law, a wrongful death action exists for the benefit of a surviving spouse, child or parents of the deceased person. In other words, a person within these categories is considered a beneficiary under the law for a wrongful death action.

Accordingly, the damages that are recovered in a wrongful death action are to be distributed to these beneficiaries in the proportion they would receive under the state's intestacy statutes. The intestacy statutes typically outline certain percentages that are to be distributed to each category of persons in the event a family member dies without a will.

If there exists nobody within these categories to recover damages, then the deceased person's personal representative may bring an action to recover certain damages. Thus, the negligent party may still be held accountable for causing the death of the deceased person, but the question of who recovers the damages is different.

Ultimately, those who have lost a loved one should understand whether they fall within the category of persons entitled to damages for a wrongful death action. In doing so, the individuals can hold the necessary persons accountable for their actions in causing the death of a loved one.

Source: Pennsylvania General Assembly, "Chapter 83: Particular Rights and Immunities," accessed on Aug. 6, 2016

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