By Kash Weir

Losing a loved one is one of the most devastating experiences anyone can experience. What if that loss could have been prevented? What if someone’s negligence or wrongful act caused your loved one’s death? In New York, the law provides a way for surviving family members to seek justice and compensation for a wrongful death through a legal action known as a wrongful death lawsuit. In this blog post, we will explore the steps to take after a wrongful death in New York and the legal aspects involved.

What is a Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a legal term used to describe a situation where someone dies due to another’s wrongful act and/or negligence. The wrongful act can be intentional or unintentional and can result from negligence, medical malpractice, product liability, or other forms of wrongdoing.

In New York, wrongful death is defined as a death that is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party. The estate of the deceased person can bring a wrongful death claim against the responsible party seeking compensation for not only the financial losses resulting from the death. Under New York law, the statute that governs wrongful death claims is found in the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) §5-4.1.

EPTL §5-4.1 allows certain family members and the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party seeking compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of the death. The damages may include economic and non-economic losses such as medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost wages, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.

Common Types of Wrongful Death Cases:

Car and Truck Accidents: Car and truck accidents are one of the most common causes of wrongful death in New York. These accidents are caused by a driver’s negligence, such as speeding, distracted driving, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Workplace Accidents: Workplace accidents can occur in any industry and can be caused by hazardous working conditions, equipment malfunctions, or the failure to follow safety protocols.

Criminal Acts: Criminal acts such as homicide or assault can result in wrongful death. In these cases, the responsible party may face both criminal charges and a wrongful death lawsuit.

Medical Malpractice: Medical malpractice is a common cause of wrongful death in New York. It refers to a situation where a medical professional’s negligence results in the death of a patient. In such cases, a wrongful death lawsuit can help the family seek compensation for their loss.

Product Liability: Product liability refers to a situation where a defective product causes the death of a person. In such cases, the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the product may be held liable for the wrongful death.

What to Do After a Wrongful Death?

Contact Authorities: If your loved one dies due to an accident or medical malpractice, it is best practice to contact the proper authorities immediately. The authorities to contact may vary depending on the circumstances of the wrongful death. In general, if the death occurs due to medical malpractice, you can contact the New York State Department of Health or the appropriate licensing board to report the incident.

If the death occurs due to an accident or a crime, you should contact the local police department or sheriff’s office. They can investigate the circumstances of the death and create a record of the incident. It’s important to cooperate fully with law enforcement and provide any information that may be helpful in their investigation.

If the death occurs in a workplace, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to report the incident. They can investigate the circumstances of the death and determine if any workplace safety violations contributed to the incident.

The goal in contacting the proper authorities is to create a detailed and accurate paper trail of the events that happened immediately following the death. All the listed individuals have the resources to properly investigate the circumstances of the death and create a record of the incident.

Contact a New York wrongful death lawyer: A wrongful death or personal injury attorney can provide valuable assistance to a family in several ways after the loss of a loved one due to wrongful death. They can:

  • Provide legal advice and explain the legal process to better help the family understand the potential outcomes of their case.
  • Investigate the circumstances of the death by collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and working with experts to determine liability and damages.
  • File a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family. In New York, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is generally two years from the date of death. However, if the lawsuit is not filed timely, you will lose your right to seek compensation.
  • Negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of the family to ensure that they receive a fair settlement for their losses. Insurance companies often try to settle for less than what the family deserves, and an attorney can help protect their rights and interests.
  • Seek compensation for medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.
  • Gather evidence: Collect any evidence related to the wrongful death, such as medical records, police reports, and witness statements. This information can help to prove liability and determine the amount of damages.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in New York and What Damages Can Be Recovered by Them?

The decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and siblings are the surviving family members entitled to seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one.

The recoverable survivors’ damages include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to the financial losses incurred due to the death, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost income. Non-economic damages include emotional distress, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.

The court determines the specific damages recoverable by survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit in New York based on the evidence presented by the parties. There is no fixed formula for calculating survivor’s damages in a wrongful death case. However, the court may consider various factors such as the age, health, and financial situation of the survivors, as well as the relationship between the survivors and the deceased person.

Punitive Damages In A New York Wrongful Death Lawsuit

New York allows the awarding of punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits when the defendant’s conduct is notably egregious or reckless. These damages serve to penalize the defendant for their actions and discourage similar behavior in the future. New York law sparingly grants punitive damages, reserving them exclusively for exceptional cases involving the defendant’s wanton, willful, or reckless conduct.

The standard for awarding punitive damages is high, and the plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with a high degree of culpability.

The jury has discretion in determining the amount of punitive damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit in New York. However, the amount of punitive damages must be reasonable and proportionate to the amount of compensatory damages awarded.

It’s important to note that punitive damages are not available in all wrongful death cases, and the decision to award punitive damages is up to the discretion of the court. If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit in New York and are seeking punitive damages, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options.