If you have recently suffered the loss of a loved one due to another person or company’s negligence, it’s natural to have a lot of questions. You may be wondering what “wrongful death” means or have been advised to file a wrongful death lawsuit by those close to you. Legal matters are probably the last thing that you want to be thinking about at such a difficult time, and you may not be sure where to start.
A successful wrongful death claim could help you and your family in many ways. It will not bring your loved one back, but it can help you to deal with the expenses faced in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one, and it could provide your family with some much-needed peace of mind about the future. If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim in New York, it’s important that you discuss the case with a qualified Manhattan wrongful death lawyer. They can answer your questions, put to rest any concerns you may have, and guide you as you deal with your case.
The Manhattan personal injury lawyers at Cellino Law have put together a detailed guide to wrongful death cases so that you can have a good idea of what to expect if you decide to go ahead with a wrongful death claim.
Table of Contents
What Is The Definition Of Wrongful Death Used In New York?
Under New York State law, wrongful death means that a person has died as a result of negligence on the part of another entity or individual. As with many other types of claim, the principles of negligence that are applied are the ones used under “common law”, which means a party can be held liable if it is proven that the death was due to that party failing to use reasonable care and that their failure led to the accident.
The New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Code says that the person making the claim must provide five key elements in order to establish their grounds to claim for wrongful death.
- Death must have occurred
- There must have been wrongful actions by the defendant
- The deceased may have pursued the case in court if they had survived the accident
- One or more people who have survived the deceased have suffered losses directly stemming from the death
- Damages that the estate could reasonably recover
For a wrongful death suit to go ahead, the family of the deceased should be able to prove that the responsible party was negligent in some way. This could be that the responsible party had a duty of care, or that they had a legal responsibility to be cautious when interacting with or performing a potentially dangerous action.
The responsible party would need to be shown to have failed in that duty of care, and by violating that duty of care they caused the death of the victim. It must also be shown that the victim’s death has caused damages (economic or non-economic) to their surviving family.
Common examples of wrongful death include:
- Criminal actions, including intentional homicide
- Construction or engineering malpractice
- Car accidents
- Defective products
- Improper alcohol service (such as serving alcohol to someone who is clearly intoxicated)
- Nursing facility abuse or neglect
- Medical malpractice
The court of appeals notes that NY State does not recognize claims for wrongful death if a fetus is killed before birth, even in cases where the death was caused by a person or entity’s negligent or wrongful acts.
Who Can Make A Wrongful Death Claim In New York?
In New York, any wrongful death claims should be made by a representative of the estate belonging to the deceased. While other states allow family members to file wrongful death claims, this can occur in New York only if the family member is also a representative of the estate of the deceased victim.
Filing a wrongful death case allows the estate to pursue the plaintiff for damages for the losses that the deceased’s beneficiaries have suffered, and also allows them to try to claim for losses that the deceased person’s estate suffered. If compensation is awarded then the representative of the estate is treated as holding the compensation in trust for the family members to whom the award belongs.
What Damages Can Be Claimed For In A Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death lawsuits are intended to compensate the victim’s family members for any losses that they suffered due to the death of a loved one. In Manhattan, NY there are several things that can be claimed for, including:
Economic Damages in the form of:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral, burial or cremation costs
- Loss of income
- Reductions to the inheritance the deceased would have left
Non-Economic Damages, including:
- Services provided by the deceased, including child care and emotional support
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of parental guidance
When evaluating such losses, the courts will take into account the age of the deceased and their beneficiaries, as well as their life expectancy. This is a challenging part of wrongful death cases since it is hard to evaluate the right to compensation for loss of parental guidance and emotional support. In some cases, these may be claimed by a child who is of legal age, although the impact of the loss of parental guidance or emotional support is greater if the surviving child is much younger.
As of 2019, a survivor filing a wrongful death lawsuit cannot recover damages for emotional trauma, pain and suffering, or the loss of companionship. However, they can recover damages for the conscious pain and suffering that was experienced, and the fear of the impending death of the victim before they passed away.
Is It Possible To Claim Punitive Damages In A Wrongful Death Claim?
The circumstances surrounding the death of the victim may mean that the courts are able to award punitive damages alongside any economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages are typically awarded in a case where the defendant engaged in dangerous or reckless behavior that led to the death of the victim. Punitive damages are intended to act as a deterrent, punishing the defendant and discouraging other members of the public from engaging in the behaviors that resulted in the case.
Punitive damages can be awarded in New York, but it is rare for claims for punitive damages in wrongful death cases to be successful. They are not available for most wrongful death cases, but if you believe that you have grounds for them or for a wrongful death case at all, you should seek advice from a Manhattan wrongful death attorney. They will be able to tell you more accurately what sort of compensation your case is likely to qualify for.
How Is Negligence Determined For Wrongful Death Cases?
The plaintiff in a wrongful death case must prove that the defendant was negligent, and there are a few factors that are involved with this, including a duty of care, a breach of that duty, direct causation, and of course resulting damages.
The Duty Of Care
The plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased. The definition of duty of care depends on the circumstances. It could mean keeping the deceased safe or avoiding doing something that may cause harm to the deceased.
In automobile-related cases, if a motorist hits a pedestrian then it could be argued that the defendant owed a duty of care since they should have been operating their vehicle in a safe manner. The judge then has to decide if it is true that the defendant owed a duty of care in that circumstance. The judge has to take into account several factors, including how clear it is that damages occurred, the public policy implications of finding duty for this case, whether the defendant could reasonably have been expected to foresee harm in this case, whether there is any moral blame, and whether the defendant’s actions were closely related to the harm.
There Was A Breach Of Duty Of Care
If the judge agrees that a duty of care did exist, the plaintiff must then demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty. Going back to the automobile accident, the plaintiff may show that the defendant was not paying attention while driving and that this is what caused the accident. It is reasonable to expect a prudent motorist to pay attention to the road, so failure to do so is in breach of the duty of care.
The next step is for the plaintiff to prove that the breach in the duty of care directly caused harm to the victim. If the defendant’s car hit the deceased, then this is clear evidence that the breach of care caused harm. If it was a different vehicle that struck the victim, it may be harder to persuade the courts that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused harm.
If the deceased was already wounded and the breach of duty caused an accident that led to the death of the deceased, then it is possible that the defendant could be held liable for the harm. Complex cases like this can require extensive deliberation, and it is a good idea to work with a skilled New York wrongful death lawyer to ensure the case is well represented.
Finally, the plaintiff has to show that the deceased suffered damages. If there was causation and a breach of duty in a wrongful death case, then damages are clear since the victim died as a result of the accident or incident.
How To File A Wrongful Death Case In New York
The personal representative of the estate of the deceased is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim. It is important to make the claim promptly because there is a statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in New York. The time limit is two years from the date of death. If someone fails to take action before the statute expires then this could result in them losing the right to compensation. There are exceptions to this, however rather than hoping that the courts will hear the case it is best to claim promptly where possible.
At Cellino Law we encourage our clients to take action early to find out whether they have a case. If the negligent actions of a person or company led to the loss of a loved one’s life, then the deceased’s estates could have the grounds required to file a wrongful death claim.
Try to keep as much evidence as possible. Gathering evidence may prevent motions to dismiss from hampering the case. Prepare a complaint that identifies the defendant and any key components of the case, as well as any compensation that they are seeking. Once you have that evidence and a prepared complaint you can file it in accordance with the rules of the courts in New York.
Going through this process is time-consuming and may be difficult for you if you have just experienced the loss of a loved one. Working with a wrongful death lawyer makes it easier for you to identify whether you have a case, and could help you to protect your rights. The lawyer can also investigate the case for you, and ensure that the evidence required is properly preserved. They can file the complaint on your behalf and represent you during the trial or any settlement negotiations. This removes a lot of the stress that you might otherwise have to deal with.
Get In Touch With A Manhattan Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
The team at Cellino Law understands how stressful and confusing losing a loved one can be. Our wrongful death lawyers have worked with many families, helping them to get through the upheaval that they are facing and recover the compensation that they deserve in their time of need. We have decades of experience in helping Manhattan clients with wrongful death claims, recovering as much compensation as possible for the family and estate of the victim.
If you think that you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim, call Cellino Law today to book a free initial consultation. Our Manhattan injury firm will help you get on the path to obtaining the compensation and justice that your family deserves.