Published: May 20, 2016
By: Richard Ogrodowski
In Pennsylvania, if you are an adult child and lose a parent due to an accidental or wrongful death, you need to show that you suffered a pecuniary loss in order to be a wrongful death beneficiary.
There is no requirement that the adult child has to live at home with the parent in order to recover wrongful death proceeds. But, as stated above, the adult child must prove a pecuniary loss. Pecuniary loss can be established by proving gifts, financial benefits, support, and services to the adult child with such frequency that it is reasonably certain they would continue had the parent not died due to an accidental or wrongful death.
As I have previously discussed in my blog postings, there is a difference between a wrongful death action and a survival action. The survival action, under 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8302, is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate to benefit the estate. It involves claims the decedent could have brought during his or her lifetime. The distribution of any damages recovered in a survival action go through the estate and are distributed pursuant to the decedent’s will, or if no will exists, then the damages are distributed pursuant to Pennsylvania’s intestacy statutes, 20 Pa. C.S. § 2101 et al.
The wrongful death action is different. Pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8301, only certain designated beneficiaries may recover for personal damages resulting from the decedent’s wrongful or accidental death. Children of the deceased is one category of potential beneficiaries that is included in the wrongful death statute. But, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has stated that for a wrongful death beneficiary to recover, they must suffer a pecuniary loss. See Gaydos v. Domabyl, 152 A. 549, 551-552 (Pa. 1990).
Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed the issue of adult children as wrongful death beneficiaries. In Campbell v. A.O. Smith Corp., 2016 WL 1625766 (Pa. Super. Apr. 25, 2016), the court found that the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County did not err in finding that the adult children of a decedent were not wrongful death beneficiaries. In Campbell, the decedent developed mesothelioma and sued over two dozen companies alleging exposure to asbestos. The decedent died during the pending lawsuit and the complaint was amended to include a wrongful death action. The decedent died with a will and left all of his estate to his second wife, despite having five adult children still living from his first marriage. The second wife pursued the wrongful death and survival actions.
Eventually, the second wife settled with the defendants. She filed a petition to have the settlements approved and to allocate the settlement proceeds between the wrongful death and survival action. The petition also sought to determine whether the adult children qualified as wrongful death beneficiaries or if the second wife was the only beneficiary.
The trial found that none of the adult children proved a pecuniary loss and that the second wife was the only wrongful death beneficiary. Specifically, the trial court found the decedent did not provide his adult children with “financial support, gifts, services, or any kind of pecuniary advantage with any kind of frequency.” Campbell at *6. Based on the evidence in the appellate record, the Superior Court concluded the trial court did not err.
Thus, although you might lose a parent due to a wrongful or accidental death, you need to be aware that in order to recover as a wrongful death beneficiary you must show a pecuniary loss.