In Pennsylvania, when a person dies as a result of a third party’s actions or failures to act, the law allows two means of recovery: “wrongful death” and “survival actions.” These two “causes of action” both can allow loved ones to file a legal claim in court after an unfortunate and unnecessary death, but the two claims are quite different.

Wrongful death actions compensate for losses suffered by the deceased person’s family when that death was caused by the wrongful act of another. The purpose of the actions is to compensate the decedent’s family for the economic loss caused by the decedent’s death, usually by awarding damages for the income the decedent would have earned had he or she lived. Damages also include the reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, funeral expenses, costs of administration necessitated by the injuries causing death, as well as the funds the decedent would have contributed to his or her family and the monetary value of the services, society and comfort the decedent would have provided to his or her family, had the decedent lived, along the emotional and psychological loss that accompanies the decedent’s death.

Wrongful death actions must be brought by a close family member of the deceased person - only children, spouses, or parents can sue for wrongful death in Pennsylvania. No matter which family member brings the lawsuit, if money is recovered in a wrongful death action, it will be distributed to the family according to Pennsylvania statute. The money will be given out as if it belonged to the deceased person, and there was no will governing its disbursement. In other words, money received in wrongful death lawsuits can only be distributed to the deceased person’s “natural heirs,” and the family has no say over how the money is divided.  

Survival actions, on the other hand, are based on the pain and suffering which the deceased person would have been able to sue for if they had survived the tragedy. Thus, if the death was caused by a car accident, a survival action covers all the harm that the victim personally suffered from the time of the accident until the time of death, whether that time be hours or months or years. Unlike recovery in wrongful death claims, money from survival actions is subject to estate tax and creditor claims. Also, if the deceased person has a will, the money will be distributed under the terms of that will.

In many cases, surviving family members can bring both wrongful death and survival claims when a loved one has untimely passed away due to a third party’s actions or failure to act.

If you know anyone who has lost a family member and who could benefit from compassionate yet aggressive representation, then contact the Mizner Law Firm at (814) 454-3889 or by email at