The Reinartz Law Firm, LLC.
Wrongful death in New York
The most devastating ordeal is losing a loved one due to the negligent or wrongful conduct of others. While loss of life is never easy, it is perhaps the hardest for family members survived by a wrongful death loss.
Compounding your loss and emotional anguish is the accompanying confusion and stress over sudden financial strain and loss of income. This combination can make it nearly impossible to carry on with your life without the support of your departed family member. It is important, however, to continue to persevere for your sake, and the sake of children and others around you who need your support.
You may feel reluctant to file a wrongful death suit, since no amount of money could ever take the place of your loved one in your life. However, when you look to the financial future, the compensation you may receive could reduce at least some of the strain on this difficult time and help you and the rest of your family move forward.
What defines a wrongful death?
In legal terms, a wrongful death is an untimely demise of someone due to the negligence or unlawful conduct of another person, company or group. While there may seem to be similarities between a wrongful death lawsuit and a personal injury lawsuit, the state of New York defines each very differently.
For a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed in New York, the litigants must prove five specific elements in order to be valid. The estate of the deceased, along with legal counsel, must prove death caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendant, which caused an action that could have been litigated if the decease has lived, as well as survival by family members who have suffered a financial loss due to the death and are brought by a representative of the deceased’s estate.
|Proving Wrongful Death|
|The first element to prove is that death occurred, which is the most obvious and only easy part to prove in court. A certificate of death, with the cause of death is sufficient to satisfy this requirement.|
|The second element is sometimes more difficult. The cause of death must be clearly linked to the negligence or misconduct of the defendant. We must prove that the death was either caused on purpose by the defendant, or inadvertently through negligence, lack of proper care and maintenance, a faulty product, or other legally-accepted justification for misconduct or negligence. A clear causal relationship must be established here to show that the defendant’s action or inaction was the direct cause of the deceased’s death.|
|Next, the estate of the deceased must show that, if the deceased had lived, they would have had cause to bring a personal injury lawsuit to court. That is, if they were alive, they could file for damages based on negligence or misconduct of the defendant. If there was no basis for a personal injury claim if the deceased was filing, then there is no justification for a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased.|
|New York law defines the fifth and final element in very specific terms, limiting who can file a wrongful death claim. As established under the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Code, only the named representative of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death claim. While family members may wish to file suit, if the legally appointed representative of the decedent does not agree, a wrongful death lawsuit may not be pursued. Additionally, this representative must prove that there is a pecuniary loss suffered due to the death. That is, they must prove a financial loss in terms of medical bills, funeral costs and future lost income for dependents.|
Compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit
Who can receive compensation and how much is owed are outlined in the final stages of a wrongful death lawsuit. Because New York law is so specific about who may file a wrongful death claim, that also means that only the legal representative of the estate is given the compensation to then distribute according to the court. However, it is important to note that if the deceased’s representative makes claims in the name of dependents, he or she must then distribute any compensation received for them accordingly.
Typically, wrongful death compensation is a sum total of medical bills accrued leading up the death, funeral costs and other final expenses and any future lost wages, which would have gone to supporting dependents had the deceased lived. These costs are referred to as damages and are paid out to the representative of the deceased for dissemination to dependents and bill collectors.
Additionally, the state of New York recognizes and compensates dependents for the value of lost parental nurturing, physical care and moral guidance for children who have lost their parents due to wrongful death. However, it should be noted that New York law does NOT recognize the loss of a fetus or unborn child as a wrongful death.
Compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering before his or her death is also recoverable by New York law. Litigants can argue that the decedent’s verbal moans and groan were indicative of pain and suffering, which will be calculated into the total compensation.
Conversely, however, survivors and dependents may NOT receive compensation for their own loss, anguish or suffering due to their loved one’s death.
What constitutes a wrongful death case?
While every case is different, many wrongful death lawsuits stem from similar causes. Again, if the decedent had lived and could have brought a personal injury or negligence claim to court against the defendant, then you likely have reason for a wrongful death claim.
Some of the more common types of wrongful death cases include otherwise preventable accidents or errors that could have been avoided.
For a motor vehicle accident to qualify as a wrongful death lawsuit, either reckless driving, driving under the influence or other negligent behavior must be established. If the driver who cause the accident that resulted in the death was employed by a commercial industry, the wrongful death suit could be filed against the company who employed the driver rather than the driver themselves.
If a pedestrian was killed either by an individual driver, a commercial driver or a public transit operator, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed due to negligence or reckless behavior.
Airline employees, or the airlines themselves may be sued in wrongful death claims if it can be proven that the crash was caused by lack of proper maintenance, overloaded capacity or other safety failures.
Defective products or machinery
If a malfunctioning product or machine is the cause of the death, the manufacturer could be held accountable for compensation in a wrongful death suit. This could apply to automobile accidents caused by known issues that were not recalled, or it could be from a household product that proved to be either toxic or otherwise dangerous. Additionally, any medical devices that either malfunction or do not work as intended could be the cause of death that results in the medical manufacturer’s liability to pay a wrongful death compensation claim.
If a doctor, nurse, or other caregiver goes outside the normal accepted procedures for medical treatment and their error results in the untimely death of a loved one, they could be held liable for wrongful death due to medical malpractice. Administration of incorrect medications, misdiagnosis, or failure to correctly analyze test results could also lead to a wrongful death decision in this category.
Death could be caused by construction in various forms. On active construction sites, there are many dangers from large machinery, excavated earth and other debris that could either fall, entrap or kill. Likewise, if a construction area is not clearly marked with warning signs, severe mishaps could occur causing a loved one’s death. If it is determined that the construction company or manufacturer of the machinery used was at fault for improper signage, maintenance or other upkeep, they could be liable for wrongful death compensation.
Whether death occurred over a long exposure due to toxic elements or was a sudden event due to a tragic accident, sometimes employers are the responsible party in a loved one’s death. You must determine the exact cause of death and the role played by the employer, but if it was preventable by following basic OSHA standards, an employer will likely be held responsible for the death and have to pay compensation.
The right legal representation matters
With an even as tragic and fraught with emotional stress as a wrongful death lawsuit, you do not want to leave your legal representation in the wrong hands. At the Reinartz Law Firm, we can help you win the compensation you deserve in order to carry on without financial strain. We work in a professional, yet personal manner with our clients to give you the support and confidence you need as you navigate life after loss.
Call us today to discuss the details surrounding your loved one’s untimely death. We are here to help you through this most difficult time.