What is a ‘wrongful death’ in New York?

New Yorkers who live in and around Victor often read about traffic accidents in which one or more individuals have perished. A common question following such reports is whether the relatives of the deceased person have any kind of claim against the person who may be at fault for the accident. The answers is provided by the New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Secs. 5-4.1 and 11-3.3.

The statute reverses centuries of common law that prevented a person or their survivors from seeking damages caused by a wrongful act. Shortly after the turn of the 19th Century, many states, including New York, began passing laws that allowed family members and other next of kin to recover damages for any death caused by the wrongful act of another. Specifically, the law permits a decedent’s spouse, children, parents or the decedent’s estate to claim damages for anyone who has caused the death of a person by “wrongful conduct or negligence.” In terms of proving liability, the wrongful death statute states grounds for recovery that are virtually identical to the common law standard for liability.

Damages in a wrongful death case are limited to economic damages caused by the death. Such damages can include loss of earnings provided by the decedent, loss of financial support provided to the survivors by the decedent, funeral and burial costs and pain and suffering damages. The last item on this list – pain and suffering – can often be expanded to include the survivors’ emotional reaction to the death.

Anyone who has lost a loved one and is interested in pursuing a case for wrongful death damages may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide a useful evaluation of the evidence, an opinion on liability and an estimate of recovering damages.

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