When someone suffers injuries in an accident that was someone else’s fault, the victim may file a personal injury claim. But what happens if the claimant succumbs to those injuries and dies? Legal action may still move forward through a survival action claim. Survivors may benefit from continuing the claim.
Continuing a Personal Injury Lawsuit after a Loved One’s Death
A personal injury case doesn’t necessarily end when the claimant dies. Instead, it becomes a survival action claim. Any damages obtained in the survival action don’t go directly to the beneficiaries, but instead to the decedent’s estate. State law or an existing will determines the final distribution of monies from the estate.
A survival action claim is separate from a wrongful death claim that surviving family members may pursue. Damages in a survival action claim aren’t the same as what’s collected in a wrongful death claim. Instead, survival action damages are based on the deceased’s damages from the time of injury until death, and what he or she would have recovered in a personal injury claim.
Medical bills are one example. For instance, the survival action may pursue medical expenses incurred while hospitalized or the costs for surgery. The period of time the victim couldn’t work is another of damages that may be recoverable. It would cover lost earnings from the date of injury until death.
The personal injury claim might have included other damages that address the physical and/or psychological damages like:
- pain and suffering;
- permanent disability; and
- emotional distress.
Whatever damages established in the injury claim can still be sought through a survival action claim.
Other Legal Actions When a Loved One Files a Personal Injury Claim But Dies from Injuries
Separate from survival action, family members may be able to pursue a claim for wrongful death benefits. This provides compensation for the damages the surviving family suffered, such as emotional distress. Unlike a survival action, where compensation is from the date of injury, this type of case is based on losses from the date of death.
State laws will apply. In Pennsylvania, a personal representative must file a wrongful death claim for the benefit of those eligible to recover damages. However, if legal action isn’t pursued within six months of the decedent’s death, any person entitled by law to recover damages can file the claim on behalf of everybody who is eligible to recover damages.
Pennsylvania law allows the following to recover compensation in a wrongful death case:
- children; or
In certain circumstances, siblings may recover damages. Intestate laws determine priority when it comes to distribution. For instance, everything goes to the spouse if there are no children or parents.
When there is a spouse and children, the spouse receives half of the estate and $30,000 if the spouse is the children’s parent; the remainder goes to the children. If the surviving spouse is not the children’s parent, then the spouse just gets the half (not the additional $30,000). If there was only children and no spouse, the children get all and share it equally.
Parents share the damages equally if there is no spouse or children. When there are no parents, spouse or children, siblings receive the entirety (must be in the same generation as the decedent).
Seeking Legal Advice When Continuing a Personal Injury Action
With the many complex issues that can arise, it’s best to have legal representation if pursuing a survival action or wrongful death. An attorney can explain how survivors may benefit from these cases and the damages they may address. An attorney can also determine if the family can take other legal action, such as filing a wrongful death claim.