Over the years, having litigated a number of catastrophic tort claims, I have frequently been asked by clients, as well as by students in my tort class at Collin College, to explain the difference between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Claim. I explain the difference between these two claims as follows:
- A Survival cause of action is something that belongs to the deceased for damages that he or she suffered before they passed away.
- A Wrongful Death cause of action does not belong to the deceased but instead belongs to the surviving spouse of the deceased, a child of the deceased, or a parent of the deceased.
The deceased person’s heir or the personal representative of their estate may bring a Survival claim. The claims that may be asserted are claims that the deceased person could have asserted had he or she survived. For instance, if a person was injured in a car accident due to the negligence of someone else and died a few hours later from those injuries, then their heir or their personal representative could assert a claim for the medical bills incurred and the pain and suffering that the person endured from the time of injury to the time of death. This is just an example of a portion of the damages that the personal representative of the estate or the heir of the deceased could assert. Any damages recovered pursuant to a survival claim are subject to the debts of the estate.
The damages recovered under a Wrongful Death claim are to compensate the surviving spouse, child or parent of the deceased for their loss. These damages typically include loss of financial support, loss of inheritance, mental anguish, and the loss of the relationship. Any damages recovered under a Wrongful Death claim are personal to the Plaintiff, and are not subject to the debts of the deceased.
Both the Wrongful Death claim and the Survival claim typically have a two-year statute of limitations. There are a few exceptions to this limitation, which can best be addressed with an attorney on a case-by-case basis.
In some instances, it is preferable to assert only a Wrongful Death claim as opposed to a Survival claim, assuming you are a surviving spouse, child or parent of the deceased and are also an heir of the deceased’s estate. Whether you have an individual claim and/or are an executor or administrator of an estate which holds a potential claim relating to the Decedent’s death, it is important to consult with an attorney regarding the decision as to whether to assert a Wrongful Death Claim, a Survival Claim, or both claims, as well as to the viability and value of these claims.
Joseph E. Legere’s practice is concentrated in Will Contests, Trust Litigation, Guardianship Litigation, Fiduciary Litigation, and Catastrophic Tort Claims. For more information regarding Mr. Legere’s litigation practice, please visit his Attorney’s profile page.