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PA & WV Accidental Death Lawyer Blog

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.

  • Court Approval of Settlements in Wrongful Death Actions in Pennsylvania

    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.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about the above, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

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  • Triathlete’s Widow Can Maintain Wrongful Death Action Against Organizer Despite Triathlete Executing Waiver and Release Form

    Following its prior decision in Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 77 A.3d 651 (Pa. Super. 2013), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found in Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, 2015 WL 9630456, *10 (Pa. Super. Dec. 30, 2015), that a triathlete’s widow could maintain a wrongful death action despite the triathlete executing a waiver and release form.

    As with other races, such as marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, etc., the triathlete was required to register for the event.  The registration required the triathlete to pay a fee and execute a waiver and release form.

    The triathlete started the swimming portion of the race, but he failed to complete it.  Sadly, his body was found the next day in the Schuylkill River.

    After the widow filed a wrongful death action, the organizer of the triathlon sought summary judgment on the wrongful death action claiming the waiver and release form barred the lawsuit.  The trial court agreed with the organizer.  Nevertheless, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed the trial court and concluded that based on Pisanso, the release did not bar the wrongful death action in Pennsylvania as it is an independent cause of action and “is not derivative of the decedent’s rights at [the] time of death.”  Id.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

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  • Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Not Binding on Non-Signatory Wrongful Death Beneficiaries

    In Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc., 113 A.3d 317 (Pa. Super. 2015), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed whether an arbitration agreement with a nursing home facility signed by the decedent’s authorized representative was binding on the wrongful death beneficiaries when a wrongful death claim was filed on behalf of the beneficiaries arising from a negligence claim.  The Superior Court found that a wrongful death action is a separate action belonging to to the beneficiaries.  As such, “an arbitration agreement signed by the decedent or his or her authorized representative is not binding upon non-signatory wrongful death beneficiaries.”  Id. at 321.   Additionally, the Superior Court refused to separate the survival act claim from the wrongful death claim so that the survival act claim could proceed in arbitration.  In doing so, the court held: “the wrongful death beneficiaries’ constitutional right to a jury trial and the state’s interest in litigating wrongful death and survival claims together require that they all proceed in court rather than arbitration.”  Id. at 328.

    This is an important decision for anyone with a loved one in a nursing home.  Just because an arbitration agreement is signed by a decedent or authorized representative, which is intended to take away the right to a jury trial, this does not mean it is binding on wrongful death beneficiaries.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

     

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  • Can an Adult Child of a Decedent Share in Wrongful Death Proceeds in Pennsylvania?

    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”.

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  • Valet Service Owed No Duty to Withhold Keys to Vehicle Even if Owner Was Visibly Intoxicated

    In Moranko v. Downs Racing LP, 2014 WL 2861549*1 (Pa. Super. June 24, 2014), a mother filed a wrongful death and survival action arising from the death of her son from an automobile accident after the son left the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.  The mother alleged in the complaint that her son drank “copious amounts of alcohol” while at the Mohegan Sun and that its valet service gave her son the keys to his car while he was allegedly visibly intoxicated.  Id.

    The Pennsylvania Superior Court found, as a matter of first impression in Pennsylvania, that Pennsylvania law did not impose “a duty upon Mohegan Sun and its valet service to withhold the keys to a vehicle if the owner appears visibly intoxicated.”  Id. at 2.  In fact, the court further found that the valet service “was duty bound to surrender control of the decedent’s vehicle when it was demanded, notwithstanding the decedent’s alleged intoxication.”  Id. at 4.   Although the court sympathized with the mother’s loss, the court could not find the Mohegan Sun’s valet service had the power to withhold the keys.  Id.   Thus, the court entered judgment in favor of Mohegan Sun on the mother’s claims against it for damages due to the death of her son.

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