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March 17, 2021

What legal recourse do you have when tragedy strikes?

Legal Fatalities

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Traffic on I-76 highway Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

While many fatalities are tragically unavoidable, the families of loved ones lost to negligence may have some recourse to cover at least the financial burden of their loss. Typically, the family of a victim of negligence would be eligible to file a personal injury claim to seek financial recovery. However, it is important to understand which scenarios could possibly lend themselves to a personal injury claim and which would not.


COVID-19 has had a major impact on the Philadelphia area, leaving many families with few opportunities for financial recovery — especially for essential workers. Even though employees were likely exposed to COVID-19 while at work, it’s impossible to trace the exact point of infection. For this reason, employers generally cannot be held responsible for a death caused by COVID-19.

Motor vehicle accidents

Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders across the country, traffic congestion has drastically reduced. However, fatal car accidents are still one of the most common cases where a wrongful death personal injury case is successful. Unlike a homicide case, the lawsuit would be filed against the perpetrator’s insurance company, as opposed to the driver themselves. The spouse and dependents of the victim are eligible to file a claim for any financial and emotional burden caused by the loss of their loved one.

Fatal accidents

There are several other situations where fatal accidents occur. Many of these situations do lend themselves to personal injury claims, especially when the accident occurred due to the negligence of someone else.

Here are some of the most common fatal accident types:

Other traffic-related deaths: With restrictions on travel and commuting, more of Philadelphia’s population has been compelled to stay near their homes. As a result, pedestrian and bicycle accidents rose, especially around sidewalks and crosswalks. The bicycle coalition of Philadelphia noted 51 pedestrian deaths and six bicycle deaths in 2020. There were also 20 motorcycle accident deaths in 2020. No numbers have been published yet on the number of Philadelphia traffic deaths in 2020 that were attributable to driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.
Falls: Aside from motor vehicle accidents, falls are the second leading cause of accidental death in Philadelphia. These include accidental slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls and falls from heights. Although affecting all age groups, those over the age of 65 are most vulnerable to fatal falls. Workers who are employed in the construction industry also comprise a significant segment of the population who die from falls. Other accidental causes of accidental death for construction workers include getting hit by a falling object, being caught in between two objects and electrocution.
Fires: Stay-at-home orders have forced many people away from their jobs. The resulting lack of income has made it difficult for some Philly residents to properly maintain or heat their homes during this unusually cold winter. By the middle of December of 2020, 32 people died in fires in the city. The Philadelphia Fire Department is again reminding residents to purchase and properly install smoke detectors or check existing detectors to make sure they’re proper working order.
Medical malpractice: A recent study at Johns Hopkins Medical points to the possibility that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. The study claims that as many as 440,000 of such deaths occur every year. It claims that there was a minimum of 250,000 deaths. The reason for the discrepancy in the total number of alleged medical malpractice deaths is how death certificates are filled out. Medical malpractice isn’t listed as a cause on death certificates in the United States. Some blame that on the medical profession’s continuing conspiracy of silence.

While nothing can bring back a lost loved one or compensate for the emotional trauma of tragedy, it is important to understand your rights as a spouse or dependent. As you seek counseling for your emotional healing, give yourself permission to research options that are available.