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Wilson v. TA Operating LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 3, 2017

PATTY C. WILSON, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Jerry Wilson, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
TA OPERATING, LLC, and TRESTON WESLEY HARRIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         This wrongful death and survival action was settled in whole on April 11, 2017. It was initiated on February 23, 2013 by Plaintiff Patty Wilson, the surviving spouse of the decedent, Jerry Wilson. Ms. Wilson is the administratrix of her deceased husband's estate, and counsel for Plaintiff indicates that she is the sole beneficiary of the wrongful death and survival actions.

         The gross settlement amount is [redacted].[1] ECF No. 183 at ¶ 6. Counsel for Plaintiff proposes that the settlement funds be distributed 90% toward the wrongful death claim and 10% toward the survival action, with counsel retaining [redacted] (or 36.67%) in fees. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13. On May 1, 2017, Counsel for Plaintiff moved this Court for approval of these settlement details, pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2206. That Rule states, in pertinent part, as follows:

(b)(1) When as the result of a verdict, judgment, compromise, settlement or otherwise it has been determined that a sum of money is due the plaintiff in an action for wrongful death, the court, upon petition of any party in interest, shall make an order designating the persons entitled to share in the damages recovered and the proportionate share of the net proceeds to which each is entitled.

         I will speak here to two issues raised by Rule 2206: (1) the propriety of the wrongful death/survival apportionment; and (2) the reasonableness of the requested fee distribution. I take no issue with either in this case.

         II. LAW

         “Although, in this case, jurisdiction is predicated upon the presence of a federal question, the court will apply Pennsylvania substantive law because the settlement of a lawsuit and the relationship between an attorney and his or her client are areas traditionally governed by state law and there is no conflicting federal interest.” Mowrer v. Warner-Lambert Co., No. CIV.A.98-2908, 2000 WL 974394, at *5 (E.D. Pa. July 14, 2000) (Robreno, J.) See also Coleman v. United States, No. CIV.A. 04-3994, 2005 WL 2230319, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 13, 2005).

         “Under Pennsylvania law, a wrongful death action is brought by a decedent's relatives on their own behalf to recover damages for pecuniary loss suffered by the loss of decedent's future contributions.” Coleman, 2005 WL at *1. On the other hand, “[a] survival action is brought on behalf of decedent for pain and suffering and loss of income suffered before death.” Id.

         “Pennsylvania prioritizes wrongful death claims over survival claims in order to put the needs of the decedent's dependents over the estate beneficiaries.” Coleman, 2005 WL 2230319, at *1. See also Krause v. B & O Railroad, Pa. D & C.3d 458, 471 (C.P. 1983) (recognizing “the natural preference for compensation for needy dependents for loss over windfall inheritances.”).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The 90%-10% distribution between the wrongful death claim and the survival action, respectively, is approved.

         Here, counsel for Plaintiff avers that Ms. Wilson is the sole beneficiary of both the wrongful death and survival actions. ECF No. 183 at ¶¶ 16-17. As such and based upon counsel for Plaintiff's representations, the Court need not concern itself with the appropriate apportionment among several dependents or between a surviving spouse and the decedent's issue. Cf. Stecyk v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 53 F.Supp.2d 794, 800 (E.D. Pa. 1999) (modifying a settlement in consideration of “the best interest of the minor child” and the fact that “a surviving spouse is not entitled to a credit from the proceeds of a wrongful death action for past support of a minor child”). Finally, at this time, the Court is also unaware of any objection to the proposed distribution. Therefore, the proposed 90%-10% distribution is approved.

         B. The 36.67% contingency fee arrangement ...


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