What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

March 18, 2024

When you lose a loved one through someone else’s negligence, you may be able to seek financial compensation. A loved one’s wrongful death causes emotional pain and other kinds of turmoil in the lives of surviving family members. Their loss can lead to significant financial problems due to funeral costs, medical bills, and other expenses.

A wrongful death lawsuit provides a way to receive compensation and ease this burden, but what qualifies as one? This depends on several factors, such as whether there is evidence of negligence. Being able to determine if you can bring a wrongful death claim can be difficult due to Pennsylvania’s complex laws. To do so, you would need to make sure you meet all of the qualifications for a wrongful death claim.

The following information can help you better understand what constitutes a wrongful death case. Keep in mind that attorneys with experience in this practice area can guide you through the process. If you have a case, having experienced attorneys at your side can help the process go as smoothly as possible and ensure that you receive any compensation you are entitled to.

What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania law, a wrongful death is a death that occurs due to someone else’s negligence. If another entity or person is legally at fault for your loved one’s death, this may qualify as a wrongful death. Wrongful deaths can occur due to any of the following:

  • Negligence, such as in an auto accident
  • Medical malpractice
  • An intentional act, such as a crime.

If you’re familiar with personal injury claims, wrongful death claims are similar. In personal injury lawsuits, the injured party files a claim to seek compensation. In a wrongful death lawsuit, another person or party files a claim on behalf of the person who died. This is considered a civil lawsuit rather than a criminal lawsuit. Winning a wrongful death lawsuit results in financial compensation, known as damages.

To determine if you have a valid claim, you’ll need to consider the following:

What Are Wrongful Death Causes?

It can be hard to determine whether your loved one’s death constitutes a wrongful death cause. However, doing so is an essential part of knowing if you or another eligible party can bring a claim. Wrongful death can happen in many types of situations and settings, such as:

  • Vehicle accidents, including car, motorcycle, and truck accidents
  • Slip and fall incidents, known as premises liability
  • Accidents on construction sites
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective products, also known as product liability.

Taking a close look at the details of your loved one’s death can help determine if it constitutes a wrongful death. For example, a wrongful death can occur when a defective product malfunctions or when a physician fails to follow standards of care when giving treatment. Wrongful deaths can also occur when business owners do not have protection in place to prevent falls or when a driver runs a red light and causes a fatal collision.

Some potential wrongful death cases are more complex, making it even harder to know if you can file a claim. For example, it’s possible to have multiple negligent parties involved in a case. Experienced wrongful death attorneys can examine all the details of your case to determine if it qualifies as a wrongful death and identify all negligent parties.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

When a wrongful death occurs, the executor or personal representative who is responsible for the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. Can anyone else do so? That depends on the timeframe. Under Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure, any beneficiaries can file this type of claim on behalf of all other beneficiaries if the personal representative does not do so in six months or less from the date of death.

What to Expect from the Wrongful Death Claim Process

Now that you know what qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit, what can you expect from the process? Going through this type of lawsuit can be difficult and stressful, especially as you mourn the loss of your loved one. In general, you can expect to go through the following steps.


This involves investigating the details of the situation surrounding the death of your loved one to determine who was at fault. This step can help identify if there were multiple parties responsible for your loved one’s death.

Evidence Gathering

Gathering evidence to support your wrongful death claim is essential. Your case will depend on your ability to prove that the negligent party was at fault.


This step involves the lawyers for each party gathering information about your wrongful death claim. They may request documents, submit questions in writing, and take other steps to get the information they need.

Pre-Trial Motions

This step involves the attorneys making legal motions before the trial begins. During this step, they might address disputes or other issues with the case, such as the way evidence was preserved.


During this step, your wrongful death lawyer helps determine the damage you should ask for. This includes damages for pain and suffering or other non-economic compensation and also economic damages for medical bills and other expenses.

Trial or Settlement

At this stage of the wrongful death claim process, your case can either be settled or go to trial. Your lawyer might negotiate with the other side to settle the case out of court. This helps keep legal costs down and can allow you to receive compensation sooner. However, if a settlement does not occur, your case will go to trial. A wrongful death trial involves having both sides in the case give arguments. This can be a lengthy process, depending on how the case goes.

After the Verdict

Once the verdict is reached, you or the other party in your case can appeal the decision. Your wrongful death attorney can help you determine if you should appeal and what steps to take at this point.

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

There is a limit on the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death claim. This statute of limitations means you must file a wrongful death lawsuit before that time limit is up. Under Pennsylvania law, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of death. What happens if you go past the two-year limit? Experienced wrongful death claim lawyers can advise you on your options in this situation. Keep in mind that courts might not be willing to hear your case if you are past the statute of limitations.

What Kinds of Damages Are There?

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are intended to compensate spouses, dependent children, and other family members who were dependent on the deceased. In cases where there are no family members who are eligible for compensation, the deceased’s personal representative can seek damages on behalf of the estate to cover expenses, such as funeral costs or medical bills.

Determining the amount and type of damages to seek can be complicated. Different types of damages may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Damages for loss of comfort, pain and suffering, and other kinds of emotional loss.

Keep in mind that damages for emotional loss are meant for family members. Practical damages, such as funeral expenses, can be awarded to the estate if there are no surviving family members who are eligible for compensation.

Certain factors can affect the amount of damages as well, such as the deceased’s earning potential and age, insurance policy limits of the negligent party, and the type of accident or incident that occurred.

Being able to figure out how much to seek in damages can be difficult and emotionally painful after suffering the death of a loved one. Our wrongful death attorneys can help you determine the amount and type of damages to seek in your case.

Contact Our Experienced Attorneys in Pennsylvania

If you believe that your loved one’s death was due to someone else’s negligence, having an experienced attorney represent you is important. The attorneys at Wapner Newman have years of experience representing clients in wrongful death cases.

Timing is crucial for wrongful death claims. Please call us at (215) 569-0900 as soon as possible to discuss your case. At Wapner Newman, we represent clients in Philadelphia and many other areas of Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey. We can guide you through the legal process, help you fight for compensation, and seek justice for the loss of your loved one.