Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania?


The fact that there’s even such a term as “wrongful death” may astound you. After all, when a loved one passes, it’s seldom that anyone thinks of it as a rightful event.  Meanwhile, you should know that a wrongful death claim seeks damages on behalf of the decedent’s survivors.

Although it might seem like a mismatch of terms, a survivor’s claim is not the same as a wrongful death lawsuit.  Consider this example.  Maria Donovan was killed as a result of injuries she suffered while a passenger in a motor vehicle accident.

Without question, Maria was not liable for the crash that took her life. The incident occurred in an intersection, and there is some debate over whose negligent actions led to the horrific event. Had Maria survived, her attorney would have investigated the claim on her behalf. More than likely, a lawsuit would have named both drivers involved in the accident.

Again, Maria was killed in the crash. So, what happens next? To start with, a personal representative of Maria’s estate may file a Survival Claim. The right to a Survival action is described in 42 PA. C.S. § 8302, allowing the decedent’s negligence claim to continue despite her demise. Quite simply, Maria’s right to compensation does not die – but passes on to her estate.

A Wrongful Death claim is something else. The law with regards to this type of action is found at 42 PA C.S. § 8301. Notably, negligence lawsuits aren’t the only time that wrongful death claims are made. If someone is murdered or dies as a result of other criminal activity, it is also possible to seek damages under this portion of the law.


When determining whether a wrongful death action is appropriate, experienced personal injury counsel will look at a few things. For a moment, go back to Maria’s case as described above. As far as the negligence aspect, the fatal accident was caused by one or more drivers. As a passenger, there is no evidence that Maria’s action contributed to the crash.

The next matter for review concerns the family Maria left behind. Was she married? Did she have children? Are her parents still alive?

Pennsylvania law is quite clear on who is entitled to money when it comes to a wrongful death claim. For example, none of Maria’s siblings are considered beneficiaries to the action. Instead, proceeds can only be awarded to the following:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Decedent’s children
  • Parents of the deceased

In the meantime, you should also know that there are laws that actually describe the percentages each of the parties above is entitled to if there is a recovery in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Contact Us

Did a loved one suffer a fatal accident? At Fellerman & Ciarimboli, we can provide you with experienced legal advice concerning both a Wrongful Death claim and a Survivor action. Our office treats clients with a compassionate approach in difficult situations. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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