When someone acts in a way that costs someone their life in New York, there is a legal remedy to compensate families and loved ones of the victim for their pain, suffering and other damages. This remedy is called a wrongful death lawsuit.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If any accident results in the untimely death of an innocent person due to the negligence of another—whether it’s a car accident for which another driver was to blame, a dangerously defective product, or even a plane crash due to pilot error—these fatal situations all fall under the umbrella of a wrongful death case, and family members may be eligible to file a lawsuit .
A wrongful death action is a civil, not a criminal, matter. This means that criminal charges do not have to be filed for the case to go to court and ultimately bring relief to family members.
Wrongful Death Can be Accidental
The actions that cause wrongful death do not have to be intentional. In the case of an accidental death, if someone can be held responsible for the wrongful act, even if it wasn’t intentional, they can still be held liable for one’s untimely passing. And where there is fault, courts typically award damages to survivors or representatives of the deceased.
Wrongful death actions are “…based on an act or omission that injures or harms another,” according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.
The justice system has a name for these acts or omissions: ‘tort,’ based on the Latin word for ‘wrong.’ In the context of a tort, injury relates to the invasion of any legal right. Harm is a loss or detriment that someone suffers. Tort cases do not cover breach of contract.
Examples of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A serious car accident takes the life of a loved one, and law enforcement brings only minimal charges against the driver. At first it may seem that there is no recourse left for the surviving family members.
The death has created gaping holes in the tapestry of the family’s life, both financially and emotionally. The deceased may leave behind children, a spouse, and aging parents, all of which will feel the loss for years to come.
The owner of an apartment building in Manhattan has not maintained the stairways. Their neglect causes a loved one to fall and die. That is an example of a premises liability lawsuit that can also lead to wrongful death action.
If a doctor has not followed the proper standard of care for a family member with tragic results, that may constitute medical malpractice, another basis for wrongful death action. Missing or falsely prescribed medication, improper or substandard care, misdiagnosis, or any other neglectful action taken by healthcare professionals that results in death may be taken as a wrongful death case.
Most Common Wrongful Death Suits in New York
- Car and Truck Accidents
- Medical Malpractice
- Defective Products
- Workplace Accidents and Illnesses
- Plane Crashes
- Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents
- Poisoning and Overdose
- Premises Liability Lawsuits
Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in NY?
In some states, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by relatives. That is not always the case in New York.
In New York, family members do not have the opportunity to file a wrongful death suit just because they are family members. New York only allows the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file a claim. These people must be recognized by state courts as personal representatives before they can file a wrongful death claim.
This personal representative may happen to be a family member, such as the decedent’s spouse, children, or parents. What’s important is that they have specific responsibility over the estate.
Delays Can Be Costly with Wrongful Death Claims
There are time limits for when a wrongful death suit can be filed. These time limits are known as the statute of limitations. The rule in New York is that the claim must be filed no later than two years after the wrongful death.
The clock will keep on ticking even if the personal representative of the estate is a minor and not able to serve in that capacity due to age. In those cases, a guardian can act in their stead, but there will be no extension on the clock.
Settlement Awards for Wrongful Death
*Sobo & Sobo does not cite actual settlement values for our 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.
Death is the most extreme loss to be considered in a courtroom—more so than an injury—no matter how egregious. Yet critics of New York’s legal system as it relates to wrongful death cases maintain that payouts are more substantial for injuries. They consider that a flaw of the justice system.
That may be so, but wrongful death awards can still be substantial. It is estimated that they start at $500,000 and climb into the multi-millions.
Take the example of a high-profile wrongful death case relating to New York police and the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner in July 2014. Garner was unarmed and allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island when police subdued him with a chokehold. His cry that he could not breathe sparked a national campaign for reform. Garner’s family received $5.9 million in compensation.
Medical malpractice also results in many wrongful death awards. One of the highest reported in the New York Post was $3.2 million for the family of Georgia Thompson who died of organ failure in 2014 after allegedly botched treatment.
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.