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: September 8, 2014
By: E. Richard Ogrodowski
Can an adult child of a decedent share in the proceeds from a Wrongful Death action in Pennsylvania (42 Pa. C.S. Section 8301)? This is a question that often arises in accidental / wrongful death cases.
Pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8301(b), the “right of action created by this section shall exist only for the benefit of the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, whether or not citizens or residents of this Commonwealth or elsewhere. The damages recovered shall be distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion they would take the personal estate of the decedent in the case of intestacy and without liability to creditors of the deceased person under the statutes of this Commonwealth.”
The most important case in Pennsylvania addressing whether an adult child can share in wrongful death proceeds is Gaydos v. Domabyl, 152 A. 549 (Pa. 1930). In Gaydos, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the adult child must stand in a “family relation” to the decedent and must suffer a “pecuniary loss” to share in wrongful death proceeds. The court stated that a “family relation” “exists between parent and child when a child receives from a parent services or maintenance or gifts with such reasonable frequency as to lead to an expectation of future enjoyment of these services, maintenance, or gifts.” Gaydos, 152 A. at 551. The court further stated that “[p]ecuniary loss has been defined to be a destruction of a reasonable expectation of pecuniary advantage from the deceased. It is not a matter of guess or conjecture, but must be grounded on reasonably continuous past acts or conduct of the deceased. … The reasonable expectation of pecuniary advantage to one standing in the family relation may be shown in many ways, but more frequently through services, food, clothing, education, entertainment, and gifts bestowed; to be reasonable, the services and gifts must have been rendered with a frequency that begets an anticipation of their continuance; occasional gifts and services are not sufficient on which to ground a pecuniary loss.” In re Estate of Wolfe, 915 A.2d 1197 (Pa. Super. 2006) (citations omitted), quoting Gaydos, 152 A. at 552.
Thus, in determining whether an adult child can share in the wrongful death proceeds, the adult child will need to set forth evidence of a “family relation” and “pecuniary loss”.