This blog focuses on the law in Pennsylvania and West Virginia (and other practical issues that arise) when a family member or friend is unfortunately lost due to an accidental death.
Published: October 12, 2022
By: Richard Ogrodowski
In Pennsylvania, when a person is injured and, let’s assume the injuries will be permanent, the injured person has a claim for both past and future damages. These damages could involve past wage loss, future wage loss or loss of future earning capacity, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, past medical expenses, future medical expenses etc. So, what happens to damages when an injured person tragically dies from a cause unrelated to his or her initial injuries that a negligent defendant or the product of a defendant caused? Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, there is an opinion from 1955 by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which is the appellate court below the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in Mohler v. Worley, 116 A.2d 342, 345 (Pa. Super. 1955) https://law.justia.com/cases/pennsylvania/superior-court/1955/179-pa-super-56-0.html in which the court held that when the injured person dies from causes unrelated to the defendant’s negligent act before trial, the damages are limited to the period from the date of injury to the date of death. Specifically, the court held: “We think it is clear, however, in cases such as the present case, where the injured party dies before trial from other causes than defendant’s negligent act, damages are limited to the period between the date of injury and the date of death.” Id. This means future damages are eliminated. There is little commentary on this opinion, although the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Chappell v. W.Va. Ry. Co., 168 A.2d 330, 332 (Pa. 1961), approvingly cited to the limitation of damages from the date of injury to the date of death when the death is unrelated to the defendant’s negligence.
From a practical standpoint, the now decedent’s claims will have to be pursued through the Pennsylvania Survival Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8302. The Survival Act states “[a]ll causes of action or proceedings, real or personal, shall survive the death of the plaintiff or of the defendant, or the death of one or more joint plaintiffs or defendants.” The personal representative, administrator, administratrix, executor, or executrix of the decedent’s estate may bring the survival action. If a lawsuit is already pending, the personal representative, administrator, administratrix, executor, or executrix will be substituted in as the plaintiff, which requires the lawsuit’s caption to be amended, and the complaint will need to be amended to assert the Pennsylvania Survival Act claim. The case now proceeds as a Survival Act claim.
I’ll address the effect of an injured person’s unrelated death on their spouse’s loss of consortium claim in a future post.
Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC
Rich’s bio can be viewed here: https://golawllc.com/e-richard-ogrodowski/