Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

May 2, 2017

Wrongful death LawsuitWhen the worst happens and a family member dies, you, as a loved one, are left with terrible grief. If you lost your family’s breadwinner or co-breadwinner, you may find yourself in a situation where  you are no longer able to pay bills. In addition, you are left with a need for justice for your family. Understandably, you want to see the person or business responsible pay for what they have done. In many cases, the only solution is to turn to the civil court for compensation. While money can never correct the wrong of losing your family member, it is the only type of compensation available to us in our legal system. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, if a loved one dies, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Here at Lowenthal & Abrams, our wrongful death attorneys fight for families who have suffered the pain of losing a family member. We are on your side and will help you seek the compensation you deserve after you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s conduct.

Who Can Claim Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The person responsible for filing the wrongful death lawsuit will vary by state. Often it is the executor of the estate. However, if that person does not file a suit, often an eligible family member may do so. Only certain individuals may recover compensation under wrongful death statutes.


In Pennsylvania, those who may recover for wrongful death include:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents

Who actually recovers is controlled by the law of intestacy in Pennsylvania. This means who can receive compensation and what percentage they can receive depends on whether the descendant was married and had children. For example, if you are the spouse and you the decedent had children, you and your children will recover and your spouse’s parents will receive nothing. If, however, you are married and have no children, you and the parents will recover.The statute of limitations for a suit is two years.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, those who may receive damages for wrongful death include:

  • Spouse and children
  • Parents
  • Siblings, nieces, and nephews

As in Pennsylvania, who actually will receive damages depends on whether the decedent was married or had children. The person seeking to recover under a wrongful death lawsuit must demonstrate “actual dependency” in New Jersey. This means that simply having a familiar relationship in and of itself is not enough. Rather, there must have been some form of dependence by the family member on the decedent. It is important to note that, in most cases, you must bring the lawsuit within two years of your loved one’s death. Otherwise you will be time barred from suing.


Medical malpractice and car accidents are a common source of wrongful death lawsuits.

Types of Damages Available

In most cases, the largest amount of recovery for a wrongful death claim is based on financial losses, such as lost wages. Some forms of damages, such as burial and medical costs are easily proved by receipts. Other damages are more difficult to prove and frequently require experts to testify about their value.

Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Damages

The specific damages for which family members may receive compensation in Pennsylvania, include:

  • Medical, funeral and burial expenses
  • Estate administration costs
  • Lost wages and benefits, including future wages that can be reasonably calculated
  • Loss of household services, companionship and comfort
  • Pain and suffering

Some states allow pain and suffering, some, like New Jersey, do not. Pennsylvania does allow for pain and suffering due to your loss of a family member.

New Jersey Wrongful Death Damages

The specific types of damages in New Jersey, include:

  • Financial support
  • Companionship, care, comfort and guidance
  • Value of household services, such as childcare, cleaning, and other chores
  • Reasonable medical, funeral and burial expenses

Family members in New Jersey may not recover for loss of emotional pleasure or pain and suffering. However, there may be other legal theories under which close family members can sue, such as infliction of emotional distress, assuming the family member was nearby when the deceased passed away. The statute of limitations is two years.

Survival Action

We can only hope that our loved ones die quickly and with no pain. Sometimes though, people can live for years with great suffering, or even just moments with substantial pain. In these situations, your attorney can file a survival action. This type of suit is for the pain and suffering of your family member, as well as other related damages prior to their death. Any compensation from a survival action goes directly into the estate as opposed to a specific family member. The compensation is then divided according to the will.

We are Here to Help

If you suffered the devastating loss of a loved one, Lowenthal & Abrams’ wrongful death attorneys are here to help you. In this time of loss, you need to focus on your family and do your best to put your life back together. The last thing you need to worry about is a lawsuit. When you retain our firm, you can be assured that we are on your side, and will do everything we can to help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to tell us what happened to your family, and we will give you an honest assessment of your case.


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