In the early morning of July 31, 2020, a hit and run accident occurred in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania. The driver struck and killed a 30-year-old man working on the interstate painting lines on the highway. At the time of the collision, the victim and another worker were in a lane closed off to traffic. However, a vehicle entered the lane and continued until he hit the worker. The other person was able to move out of the way in time.
Video surveillance revealed that the driver was a 27-year man from Luzerne County. The police found his workplace and spoke to his employer. His boss said the driver told him his vehicle was having transmission problems but came back to him later and said he “killed someone.”
When the police arrived at the driver’s address to execute a search warrant, the suspected hit-and-run vehicle was in the process of disassembly, which he began taking apart hours after the accident. In an interview with the officers, the 27-year-old man admitted that he had alcoholic drinks the night of the accident. He also confessed to the troopers that he hit something while driving on the interstate and kept going.
He reportedly faced criminal consequences—his charges, including accidents involving death or personal injury and tampering with evidence.
It is a crime and civil violation to have a motor vehicle accident and leave the scene. Under Pennsylvania law, the driver must immediately stop, remain and the scene, and render aid. State law also prohibits motorists from driving while under the influence of alcohol. An at-fault driver who kills someone while violating the traffic laws is liable for the victim’s death.
A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the wrongful act, neglect, or unlawful violence of another. The personal representative of the deceased person’s estate may bring a lawsuit to recover damages arising from the death. However, the employer bears the liability of death that that occurs in the course of employment. In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy to seek compensation for a work-related death.
Workers’ compensation is mandatory no-fault insurance employers must carry to cover employees’ workplace and job-related accidents, injuries, and illnesses. The insurance program provides wage compensation, medical treatment, disability benefit, and death benefits for approved claims of employees. State law requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance through an agency, carrier, or state fund or carry self-insurance.
Employers must file a self-insurance application with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. They also have to submit their financial statements for review. The Bureau may approve self-insurance if employers show:
- Financial strength
- Capacity to pay out substantial amounts of money over short periods of time
- Current condition and status of the business
After a job-related accident, the employer must have actual notice of the employee’s injury, illness, or death. The claimant may submit a workers’ compensation claim once the employer has the required notice. Pennsylvania law bars the claimant from benefits if the employer does not receive notification within 120 days of the date of the injury.
When the employee dies in a workplace or work-related accident, the surviving spouse, minor or otherwise dependent children may receive death benefits. The amount of the benefits is a percentage of the deceased employee’s wages at the time of death. In some cases, the compensation goes to the dependent parents or siblings of the worker.
The beneficiaries receive their installment payments at the same frequency – weekly, biweekly, monthly – as the deceased employee. The other option for compensation is a lump sum paid by the employer that includes future installments and interest.
Although an employee dies in a job-related accident, a third party may be at fault for the death. Therefore the at-fault person is liable for compensation to the deceased’s beneficiaries. The personal representative of the employee’s estate files a wrongful death lawsuit against the third party. The suit may seek damages for medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, administration of the estate, emotional distress, pain and suffering and loss of companionship.
The personal representative can file a lawsuit and the workers’ compensation claim simultaneously. A judgment or settlement awarded to the plaintiff in the wrongful death lawsuit is subject to subrogation by the employer. Subrogation is taking on the legal rights of another. The employer stands in place of the employee to recover the benefits it paid under the workers’ compensation claim. The lawsuit recovery that exceeds the employer’s subrogated amount goes to the employee. Pennsylvania law treats the excess compensation as the employer’s advance payments of future compensation installments.