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How Does A Wrongful Death Suit Work?

Posted on August 12, 2020 by Nifty Admin

Losing a loved one is tragic under any circumstances, but the loss of a family member because of someone else’s careless behavior can be truly devastating. Under these circumstances, it can feel impossible to even consider the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party given the emotional toll of the death. Yet filing a wrongful death claim can often allow survivors to hold the negligent party accountable, and to obtain necessary compensation. 

If you do decide to speak with a Rochester wrongful death lawyer about filing a lawsuit, we know that you have any questions. Most pressingly, how does a wrongful death suit work? Every state has its own wrongful death laws, and it is essential to understand how a wrongful death claim will work in New York.

How Is A Wrongful Death Defined In New York State?

New York’s Wrongful Death law is governed by statute. Before the statute was passed in the mid-1800s, the law did not allow for any recovery for a wrongful act which resulted in death. The theory was that if a person died, so did his/her right to bring suit for damages.  To address this situation New York past two statutes one was called the Survivors’ Action and the other Wrongful Death. The survivors’ action allows the decedent’s estate to bring suit for the personal injuries that the decedent incurred from the wrongful act up to the time of death.. The wrongful death claim allows the decedent’s distributees ( those who are entitled to inherit from the estate) to recover the individual damages each has incurred as a consequence of the death. Unlike many other states, it’s important to recognize that New York’s  Wrongful Death claim has nothing to do with the extent of the pain and suffering of the deceased person or for the emotional suffering of the family member due to the death of their loved one. It is purely a claim for actual economic losses caused by death. This allows a child to recover for the loss of support from her father or a wife for the losses of the benefits of her husband’s lifetime income, or the value of the loss of services that a grandparent would provide to their adult children. 

A successful wrongful death lawsuit in New York will typically require the plaintiff to prove the following elements:

  • Deceased’s death was caused by the defendant’s negligent or intentionally harmful act (by the defendant’s wrongful act or omission);
  • Deceased would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit if the defendant’s wrongful act or omission had not resulted in death;
  • Deceased has distributees who suffered a loss from the wrongful death; 

What Is The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Law?

Wrongful death suits are closely related to personal injury lawsuits, but there are some key differences. In both personal injury law and wrongful death claims, the law recognizes that a person has suffered injuries as a result of another party’s negligence, wrongdoing, or fault. In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured person has the ability to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party in order to seek financial compensation for losses. Yet when a person dies from their injuries, that person cannot file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. New York’s survivors’ law allows the estate of the deceased person to “stand in the shoes” of the deceased in the lawsuit in order to file a claim against the at-fault party.

The estate is also the party that is allowed to bring the Wrongful Death claim on behalf of each distributee. The amount recovered for each distributee is based upon the unique circumstances of their losses. This can result in large differences in the amount recovered since it depends upon factors such as the age of the decedent, the income reasonably to be expected if death did not occur, and the relationship between the deceased and the family member claiming the losses. If the decedent was young then there would more years to live and contribute to the welfare of the distributee, if the decedent had a high paying job then the distributees will have lost more than if the decedent had a low income or if retired, likewise parent of a deceased infant will not normally incur much economic loss since they are not dependant upon the support of their child. It is this discrepancy, that the value of a Wrongful Death Claim for the death of a young child or of  an elderly person compared to a young adult with a good income who has a spouse and/or children to support that drives the change     

Both personal injury and wrongful death suits allow for similar damages, but in a wrongful death claim, the survivors may also be eligible to receive compensation for funeral and burial costs, loss of companionship of the deceased, and related damages.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Under New York Law?

It is important to know that the personal representative of the estate is the party who must file a wrongful death claim in New York. While other states permit certain family members to file wrongful death lawsuits, a family member can only file a claim if that person is also the personal representative of the estate. Yet the wrongful death suit can seek damages suffered by the deceased’s survivors. Thus even though the personal representative is the one who files the suit, survivors can obtain damages.

Statute Of Limitations In New York Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Every civil lawsuit in New York has a statute of limitations, including wrongful death lawsuits. In most wrongful death cases, the lawsuit needs to be filed within two years from the date of the deceased’s death. To be clear, the case does not have to be resolved within that period of time, but the lawsuit must be filed.

It is critical to know that the clock on the statute of limitations starts to tick on the date of the deceased’s death as opposed to the date of the wrongful act that caused the death. This distinction is important because a wrongful death lawsuit might arise out of an accident in which the deceased did not immediately succumb to injuries.

Contact A New York Wrongful Death Attorney For More Information

If you lost a loved one as a result of another party’s negligence, it is important to learn more about filing a wrongful death lawsuit. In New York, the laws surrounding wrongful death claims can be complicated, but an experienced Albany wrongful death attorney can discuss your situation with you today. Contact Powers & Santola, LLP to learn more about our services and to seek advice about your wrongful death claim.