Losing someone suddenly, or in a situation or accident that could have been avoided, is one of the most painful experiences anyone can go through.
As is often the case during life’s most difficult moments, there are certain legal questions you may need to consider at a time when legal action is the last thing on your mind.
One of those issues may be your and your family’s rights to financial compensation for a loss you should never have experienced — namely, a wrongful death claim.
This article is intended to provide a general overview of wrongful death claims in New York to help you and your family understand your options and how an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Kingston can help.
What Is Wrongful Death?
When someone dies as a result of another party’s careless, reckless, unreasonable, or unlawful behavior, we refer to their loss of life as a wrongful death. In some cases, a death may also be wrongful if the responsible party failed to take appropriate action.
In other words, a wrongful death is one that happens because of another party’s negligence. “Negligence” is a legal term that refers to a person’s (or entity’s) failure to meet a legal duty.
Common examples include a drunk driver who causes a fatal car crash, a doctor who breaches the duty of care and causes a patient’s death, and an employer or property owner who neglects a dangerous condition that leads to the death of a worker, visitor, or patron.
Other examples include claims brought against corporations that produce dangerous products (from pharmaceutical and tobacco companies to the manufacturers of defective goods).
These deaths are generally considered to be “wrongful” because they could have been prevented had another party acted more carefully.
Wrongful death can arise in many different circumstances. We’ve discussed just a few examples so far.
Who Can Recover Wrongful Death Damages in New York?
In some states, individual family members can file wrongful death lawsuits on their own, claiming compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of the death.
The process works a little differently in New York. It’s important to understand the distinctions, who can recover financially after a wrongful death in our state, and how that recovery operates.
In New York, the only party allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit is the estate’s designated personal representative (PR). However, that doesn’t mean family members can’t recover for their losses. That said, the process for doing so is somewhat more limited and complex than in other states.
In our state, the PR files the wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate and, generally speaking, can seek compensation for:
- The damages the deceased person suffered between the time of injury and the time of death, and
- Damages the estate has incurred as a result of the death (for example, funeral costs), and
- Personal losses suffered by the deceased person’s heirs, beneficiaries, dependents, or devisees — if such losses were caused by the wrongful death.
As you can see, the rules about who can sue for wrongful death in New York are technical and complicated.
At the end of the day, here is what you need to know: while it is technically the personal representative of the estate who files the lawsuit for wrongful death in New York, the following family members generally are eligible to receive compensation for their damages caused by the death:
- Children of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased
- Spouse of the deceased
- Siblings of the deceased (in some cases)
- Cousins of the deceased (in some cases)
What Is Required to Prove Wrongful Death in New York?
To bring a successful claim for wrongful death damages, New York law requires the estate’s personal representative to prove the following elements:
- The accident victim died.
- The victim’s death was caused by the defendant’s negligence or wrongful conduct.
- Had the death not occurred, the victim would have had a legal claim arising out of the defendant’s negligence.
- There is at least one surviving heir, beneficiary, dependent, or devisee (e.g. spouse, child, etc.).
- The estate or beneficiaries have suffered damages.
What Damages Are Available in a NY Wrongful Death Case?
Depending on the circumstances, you and your family might be entitled to compensation for:
- The deceased’s hospital and medical expenses
- The deceased’s pain and suffering
- Burial and funeral costs
- Loss of future earnings, pension, and/or benefits
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of financial support or other forms of support
- Loss of care and protection
- Other losses caused by the wrongful death (as supported by the facts and circumstances surrounding the claim)
- Punitive damages (limited to extreme cases of wrongful behavior)
Some of these damages are claimed on behalf of the deceased’s estate; others are claimed on behalf of the family members themselves.
If damages are awarded on your behalf (or on behalf of your family members), the estate’s personal representative will typically hold such compensation in a trust for you and for any other family members included in the claim.
When Should You File a Claim for Wrongful Death?
As with most personal injury claims, wrongful death claims must be brought within a narrow window of time known as a “statute of limitations.”
The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in New York is strictly enforced. But calculating that statute isn’t always a straightforward matter. Numerous exceptions, qualifications, and special rules may apply.
Accordingly, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced New York wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after the death to determine which rules might apply.
While you should never assume it is too late, you should also give yourself as much time as possible to consider your options and take action accordingly. Wrongful death claims can take some time to prepare, and once the statute of limitations expires, it is usually no longer possible to initiate a claim.
Bottom Line: NY Wrongful Death Claims Are Complex and Emotionally Challenging, But You Have Rights.
If you’ve read through this article and still have questions about how New York wrongful death law would apply to your family’s situation, you aren’t alone. Wrongful death law is complex, especially in New York. Moreover, these cases are emotionally challenging because they arise during a period of profound grief, and they sometimes involve opposition from an aggressive insurance company or defense attorney.
The Kingston wrongful death lawyers at O’Connor and Partners can help. You have rights, and we want to help you understand them. We recognize the sensitivity and discretion that these matters require. Our goal will be to handle every aspect of your claim diligently and effectively so that you can focus on your emotional needs instead. We are here to help.
Talk to a Kingston Wrongful Death Lawyer at O’Connor and Partners
Our firm is proud to offer no-cost, no-risk case consultations for people who have lost a loved one due to negligence.
At O’Connor and Partners, we fight hard to maximize compensation for the clients we represent. If you choose to hire us after your consultation, we will not charge you a fee unless we get you money first.
As Kingston wrongful death lawyers, we offer our legal services to individuals living all throughout the State of New York, including: Kingston, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Ellenville, the Hudson Valley, New York City, and beyond.
Please contact us online or call 845-303-8777 to talk with an experienced Kingston wrongful death attorney today.