What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If an individual dies in an accident caused by another, or from an act of violence, their family members and loved ones may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. New York has strict laws regarding taking legal action after a wrongful death, lawsuit eligibility, and more.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of legal claim used to gain justice and compensation for a deceased individual and their family. Eligibility for wrongful death lawsuits depends on whether a person passes away due to the negligence, misconduct, or malicious intent of another individual or party.
In addition, wrongful death lawsuits are often accompanied by claims of pain and suffering, which seek justice for the physical injuries that a decedent may have experienced prior to death, as well as their family’s emotional damages from their passing.
Eligibility for Wrongful Death Claims
In New York as in other states, only certain individuals are eligible to file a wrongful death claim on the behalf of a deceased person. According to NY Est. Powers & Trusts Law Section 5-4.1, wrongful death lawsuits can be brought by the following parties:
- A child or parent of the decedent
- The spouse of the decedent
- The personal representative for the decedent’s estate, such as the decedent’s trust manager
Because of these limitations, siblings or cousins of a deceased individual don’t always have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in New York. They may only do so if they are named the guardian or personal representative of the decedent.
Who is Responsible for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, only one individual may file a wrongful death claim against the accused person or party. Generally, the person legally closest to the decedent is responsible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit unless they allow another party to do so.
For example, if a husband and father died, their spouse would be the first party responsible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, followed by their children, followed by their estate’s personal representative (if applicable).
Regardless, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within the statute of limitations. In New York, the filing deadline is two years from the date of the victim’s death.
Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Wrongful death lawsuits may be brought by a decedent’s family members or estate representative under various circumstances. Recent examples of different types of wrongful death lawsuits include:
A mother is killed in a car accident because of the negligence of a drunk driver. Her children bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party to seek damages for her death and the destruction of property, as well as pain and suffering.
A man is subject to medical malpractice because a doctor performs a surgery incorrectly due to a lack of training or experience. He dies, and his father files a wrongful death lawsuit afterward.
A man is not provided with appropriate safety equipment on a construction job. He is killed when a construction accident occurs, and his wife files a wrongful death lawsuit for compensation.
A woman slips and falls on ice outside a restaurant’s door. After she dies, her estate representative files a wrongful death lawsuit due to negligence on behalf of the restaurant’s management team and/or employees.
Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death in NY
Wrongful death is unfortunately very common in New York, and it may be caused by many different circumstances or negligent actions. Some of the most common causes of wrongful death in New York include:
- Homicide, or the direct killing of another person with malicious intent. For example, homicide was the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 22 to 44 between the years of 2012 and 2014.
- Auto accidents for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians. Auto accidents were the third leading cause of death for New Yorkers aged between 15 and 19 as well as children aged between 5 and 9 in the same timeframe. Auto accidents were the fifth leading cause of death for New Yorkers aged between 20 and 65+.
- Falls, which were the 10th leading cause of death for teenagers aged between 15 and 19.
- Poisoning, such as through exposure to hazardous chemicals or toxins in construction sites or in apartment buildings.
- Fires, which may be caused due to poor building codes, hazardous materials, and inappropriate use of tools.
- Workplace accidents, which may lead to death through the inappropriate application of safety gear, inappropriate training, or exposure to hazardous materials and circumstances.
- Medical malpractice, in which a medical professional performs their job inappropriately. Misdiagnosis, inappropriate surgical procedures, or inaccurate drug dosing may all lead to wrongful deaths of patients.
Compensation for Wrongful Death
Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed to seek compensation for:
- Pain and suffering or emotional turmoil
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of income if the deceased was a provider for their family members
- Further injuries if the accident or incident led to more than one person being injured/killed
- And more
Because each wrongful death lawsuit is different, compensation amounts can vary significantly.
One recent New York wrongful death lawsuit led to compensation totaling $1.2 million. In this case, the deceased’s family filed a lawsuit against a negligent driver who impacted a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Another recent settlement saw the plaintiff be awarded $500,000 for the wrongful death of their spouse in a workplace accident. The accident was due to the negligence of a supervisor and the company, which used ineffective safety protocols and materials.*
*Sobo & Sobo does not cite actual settlement values for our own clients’ cases, even anonymously, for reasons of privacy. From time to time, we may include publicly available individual case histories and ranges of general US settlement values that are published by reliable sources. These, however, should not be interpreted as representing Sobo & Sobo cases or suggest future outcomes at Sobo & Sobo.
Factors That Influence Wrongful Death Settlement Values
There are several factors that determine the amount of wrongful death award, including:
- Lost income (from the time of the injury to death)
- Medical bills, nursing, and health-care costs
- Funeral expenses including burial
- Damages related to any conscious pain and suffering the victim experienced before death
- Termination of support and services the deceased would have provided to their family
- Loss of inheritance for the decedent’s children
- Parental care no longer available for surviving children
What to Expect After Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Much of what happens in a wrongful death case takes place outside the courtroom. Often settlements are reached before the trial stage. A big step in reaching a settlement is the initial phase known as discovery.
Discovery is a fact-finding stage that all parties named in a lawsuit have the right to conduct to benefit their case. The discovery phase will include the following:
- Subpoenas: Official orders issued by a court of government agency to compel a witness to testify
- Interrogatories: Formal written questions that the recipient is required to answer
- Depositions: Oral statements taken from a witness under oath prior to trial
Typically, both parties accomplish depositions and other aspects of discovery with the professional guidance of attorneys. Those called to give a deposition may be told to go to a law office and answer a series of questions posed by the opposing party’s attorney. The answers are often recorded by a court reporter and are considered official.
What to Remember When Going for a Deposition
A deposition is an opportunity for both parties to know where they stand with witnesses prior to a trial. Since these statements are made under oath, telling a falsehood can result in civil and criminal penalties. This is considered perjury. Even though the statement was not made in a court of law, it still carries much weight.
Those giving a deposition should listen carefully to all questions. In that way they can be sure to be factual and precise. This is not the time to be long-winded or divulge unnecessary information.
Depending on the case, depositions can last anywhere from 15 minutes or several days.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney in New York
A successful wrongful death claim can be the difference between struggling financially after the loss of a loved one or having the monetary stability to focus on healing. Success comes with experience and a proven track record. The New York-based firm of Sobo & Sobo has over 50 years of experience assisting clients who lost their loved ones to someone else’s negligence.
There is no charge for a consultation at Sobo & Sobo. Call 855-468-7626 to schedule a free meeting with a wrongful death attorney in New York City or the Hudson Valley, or contact Sobo & Sobo online with any questions or concerns you may have.