The Basics of Wrongful Death Lawsuits after Drunk Driving Accidents

Many drunk driving accidents are fatal. And tragically, it’s oftentime innocent bystanders or occupants of other vehicles who are killed. Although nothing can replace someone’s life, there may be legal recourse that a grieving family can take after the fatal car crash. One option is to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent driver.

Repercussions of a Fatal DUI Car Accident

Pennsylvania’s sentencing laws are based upon blood alcohol content levels (BAC) and other factors.

Punishment depends on:

  • previous DUIs;
  • if there a minor in the vehicle at the time; and
  • whether or not someone was injured or killed.


Although drunk drivers face penalties – such as fines and imprisonment – the family of a loved one killed in a fatal car crash may pursue compensation through a lawsuit in addition to those other penalties.

A wrongful death claim seeks damages for the financial and emotional losses related to the fatal accident. Someone who chooses to get behind the wheel when intoxicated not only demonstrates negligence but also recklessness, in knowing that those actions can cause serious injury or death to another person.

Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Compensation sought in a lawsuit after a fatal DUI car accident generally includes medical bills that arise from the loved one’s injuries. Ambulatory services, hospitalization and other medical treatment administered prior to death are some examples of additional damages available. The cost of a funeral may also be included in some instances.

Sometimes a wrongful death lawsuit addresses the person’s lost earnings, if the family had relied upon his/her income. There may be other forms of compensation recoverable based on loss of companionship of a spouse or the nurturing of a parent.

In cases of gross recklessness, an attorney may pursue punitive damages from the drunk driver. These intend to punish the driver for reckless indifference to others’ safety.

Beneficiaries in a Wrongful Death Case

In Pennsylvania, the spouse is entitled to all damages if there are no children. If there are children and they belong to the spouse, the spouse receives half the estate and an additional $30,000. If the children are not the spouse’s, then the spouse recovers half the estate. The remaining amount is divided equally amongst the children.

When there are only children and no spouse, they will divide the estate equally. The same is true for parents if there are no children and no spouse. In cases where the deceased has no spouse, children or parents, siblings may be entitled to damages.

Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations

It’s important to note that the statute of limitations allows a set period of time during which surviving family members can file a lawsuit. The time limit generally begins on the date of the loved one’s death. In Pennsylvania, there is a two-year timeframe in which family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Acting quickly is important to preserve important evidence. Of course, in a drunk driving accident one of the most critical pieces of proof will be any chemical tests that the police administered to the driver. The results will show the driver’s BAC level and help establish if the person had exceeded legal limit.

With the complexity of DUI and wrongful death laws, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice. Don’t delay contacting an attorney from the law offices of Cordisco & Saile LLC. Call us today at 215-642-2335.

Categorized: DUI