Published: March 15, 2016
In our experience, family members of someone who has died due to the fault of others, only recover the full value for their claims by filing a lawsuit, and certainly by consulting and working closely with a lawyer. Fortunately, most civil lawsuits are able to be resolved, or settled, before trial, although sometimes a trial is necessary.
In Pennsylvania, there are formal steps the lawyer representing the family of a wrongful death victim must follow to ensure the finality of a wrongful death case settlement. In general, settlements in wrongful death cases filed in Common Pleas Courts in Pennsylvania must be approved by a judge, sometimes by judges in two divisions of the Court. Rule 2206 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the lawsuit has been filed are the starting points for this court-approval process.
In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, when a party seeks to have a settlement of a wrongful death case approved, including the share of the settlement proceeds to which each wrongful death beneficiary will receive, the party’s lawyer must present a formal and detailed petition to the Calendar Control Judge of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas. This procedure is discussed in Allegheny County Local Civil Rule 2206.
When a minor or incapacitated person is a wrongful death beneficiary, the lawyer representing the family must first present the settlement approval petition to the Administrative Judge of the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas. Once the Administrative Judge of the Orphans’ Court Division has approved the petition, the family’s lawyer must then present the settlement approval petition to the Calendar Control Judge of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas.
In addition to following the local rules of the Court of Common Pleas in the Pennsylvania county where the wrongful death lawsuit has been filed, the family’s lawyer must also follow the requirements of Rule 2206 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 2206, entitled, “Settlement, Compromise, Discontinuance and Judgment,” sets forth requirements for settling or compromising a wrongful death action and also specifically discusses the additional requirements when there is a structured settlement or there is no guardian for the incapacitated person or minor.