Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania law defines “wrongful death” as any death the negligence, recklessness, or unlawful action of another person causes. It may be helpful to think of wrongful death like a personal injury claim the decedent could have made had the accident not resulted in his/her death. Wrongful death claims center on the same theory as personal injury claims: negligence. It is also possible to file a wrongful death claim on the grounds of intent to harm (often on top of criminal suit). Read on to learn who can file this type of lawsuit in Pennsylvania or contact a dedicated Philadelphia wrongful death attorney.


Not everyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit after a beloved friend or family member passes away. Pennsylvania Rule 2202 states that in most cases, only a “personal representative” of the decedent may file a claim on behalf of individuals entitled to receive compensation from the loss of a loved one. A personal representative is someone the family can assign or someone the courts may appoint. The representative is in charge of distributing any compensation that may result from the wrongful death action.

Before bringing the claim, the personal representative must obtain an order that authorizes him/her to file the action. This takes the form of a Petition with the civil courts – a document the representative or an attorney can file. The representative must be qualified to act as such, and a judge must sign the order that appoints the person as the personal representative. Anyone interested in acting as a personal representative should seek counsel from a local wrongful death lawyer to ensure he/she submits the proper paperwork within the filing time limit. Otherwise, you could hurt your chances of filing.

Rule 2202 does contain one exception. If a personal representative does not file the wrongful death claim within six months of the deceased person’s date of death, any person “entitled by law to recover damages” may file the action. This includes a personal representative or family member. This individual will act as trustee ad litem, or trustee for the purposes of only the legal action, on behalf of all people entitled to share compensation. While a wrongful death claim is underway, no one can bring another action for the same death.


Wrongful death claims and survival actions are two different legal remedies. Survival actions are similar to personal injury claims in that the plaintiff can recover for the victim’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and emotional distress from the time of the accident until the time of death. A wrongful death claim, on the other hand, focuses more on compensation for the surviving family members or beneficiaries. This compensation can include payment for:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Nursing costs
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, support, and companionship
  • Loss of the decedent’s income and work benefits
  • Loss of the decedent’s services
  • Estate administration costs

Some damages, such as those relating to the loss of support and guidance, are for specific surviving family members such as a spouse or child. Others, such as economic damages, can go to the personal representative even if there are n surviving children, parents, or spouse. Types and amounts of damages will depend on the nature of the accident and the harms the decedent and surviving family members suffered.

There is a time limit for seeking these damages in Pennsylvania. The civil courts give the personal representative two years from the date of death to file a claim for both wrongful death and survival actions. The sooner you file, the sooner you can seek retribution for an untimely death. Speak to a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death claims as soon as possible after a loved one’s death to get the process started.