Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Settlement?

If you’ve lost a family member through another party’s negligent act, you might be thinking about a wrongful death lawsuit. You might also be wondering: “Who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement?” It’s okay to think about these things. Money worries don’t go away when someone dies. In fact, they may grow more troublesome if your family member was a breadwinner.

In Pennsylvania, surviving spouses, children and parents can get money in wrongful death settlements. Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other relatives cannot be parties to claims. This is true even if they were dependent on the deceased.

How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work?

How does a wrongful death settlement work? When someone causes a death due to their careless or intentional act, they open themselves up to a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims are filed for a variety of reasons. They might be filed when deaths happen as a result of careless drivers, medical negligence, defective products and other incidents. Wrongful death lawsuits ask for compensation for specific damages, or losses, resulting from deaths.

Wrongful death lawsuits are brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate on behalf of the beneficiaries. If there are no beneficiaries, the personal representative can bring a lawsuit to recover compensation for medical, funeral and estate administration expenses only. A personal representative is someone named by the deceased in their will to handle their estate after they die. If there was no will, the court will appoint someone, such as the spouse or another family member to fulfill that role. If the personal representative doesn’t file a claim asking for damages within six months of the death, the spouse, parents or children can file on behalf of all the survivors.

Damages You Might Get in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Here are the kinds of damages you might get if your wrongful death lawsuit is successful:

  • Hospital and medical expenses
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Loss of the decedent’s expected income
  • Loss of inheritance the deceased might have left had they lived
  • Lost comfort, support and guidance from the deceased
  • Loss of love and companionship
  • Punitive damages in cases of severe negligence or wrongdoing.

The damages awarded in a claim depend upon the facts of the case. An experienced wrongful death attorney can review your case and advise you about what damages you might ask for.

Money You Might Be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Claim

There is no easy way to know exactly how much money you could get in a wrongful death case. What you might get will be based on all the circumstances in the case, including the extent of damages. It can also depend on how much you can realistically expect to collect from the party you are suing. Here are a couple of examples: A negligent driver in a car accident case may have only $100,000 or less in liability coverage. A large corporation that developed a defective product would have much more than that. Awards in wrongful death claims can range from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Sometimes they may even be more.

How Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits Paid Out?

Wrongful death lawsuits are paid out based on the survivors the deceased person left. For example:

  • If the person was married but did not have children or parents, everything goes to the spouse.
  • If there were children but no spouse, the entire settlement will be divided equally among them. If there are surviving parents, but no spouse or children, the parents will share the money equally.
  • If the person’s spouse and children survived them, the spouse will get the first $30,000. They will also get half of the settlement that remains. The other half will be divided equally between the children. In cases where there is a spouse and parents but no children, the same pay-out exists. The spouse gets the first $30,000 and half of the remaining settlement. The parents divide the other half.

Settlements in wrongful death lawsuits are paid directly to survivors, not to the estate. They are not subject to inheritance, estate or income taxes.

How Long Does A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?

The answer to this question is that “it depends.” When cases are settled through negotiations with insurance companies outside of court, they typically end more quickly. They may take a few months to a year. If a fair settlement can’t be reached and a case goes to trial, it can take much longer, maybe even years. When a case goes before a judge or jury, there is also no guarantee of the outcome. You may not receive any compensation at all if the decision does not go in your favor. A skilled wrongful death attorney can examine all the factors of your case and counsel you about your options.

Time Limit for Filing Wrongful Death Claims

It’s important to note that there is a time limit for bringing wrongful death claims. In Pennsylvania, that time limit is two years from the date of the person’s death. If you miss that deadline, you may not be able to file a claim. There are some exceptions to this time limit that a wrongful death attorney can advise you about.

Our Understanding Philadelphia Attorneys Are Here For You

When you are grieving over your loved one’s loss, worrying about who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement is probably not the first thing on your mind. But when you have lost the love and support of a family member due to another’s negligence, a wrongful death suit can be an important consideration.

Our skilled attorneys at Wapner Newman will answer all your questions surrounding a wrongful death lawsuit and how settlements work. Call our Pennsylvania law office at (215) 569-0900 to schedule a free consultation. We understand what you are going through. We will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve for the loss of your loved one.