June 15, 2024

Defining Wrongful Death in New York

What does the term “wrongful death” mean under New York state law, and who is eligible to file this kind of lawsuit? The answers to these questions are relatively straightforward, but as with most legal issues, there are details to be aware of that can complicate matters. If a claimant doesn’t pay attention to these details, even the strongest wrongful death claim can be scuttled before it has a chance.


“Wrongful Act, Neglect, or Default”

Those three terms are the actual wording in the statute, and they mean that there are three basic circumstances which allow for a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful act is possibly the most obvious: Someone takes an action that is intended to cause harm. This covers violent crimes against a victim which lead to death, such as robbery or assault, as well as murder or manslaughter. In addition to any criminal charges (and penalties, such as prison time) that the law might impose, the survivors of the victim can file a wrongful death suit.

Neglect and default cover a range of actions (or inaction) that led to harm the victim. These cover situations in which a person allowed a dangerous condition to continue to exist, such as, in an extreme hypothetical situation, a property owner knowing that a stairway was about to collapse but not fixing it and not warning users.

Default might include a person watching another walk onto that stairway and not telling him about the risk. Negligence is frequently a factor in wrongful death suits, but default is less common since it’s often difficult to prove.


Limitations on New York Wrongful Death Suits

Civil actions for wrongful death have restrictions. The most important might be that the victim must be survived by a family member or legal representative who can prove standing to recover for the wrong done. Distant relations might not be eligible. There’s also a two-year time limit to make a claim, with very few exceptions (one being that if there is also a criminal case, an extension might be allowed).

The damages that a victim’s survivors can collect are limited to purely economic losses. They can seek recovery of costs that can be calculated: funeral expenses, medical costs related to the death, lost wages and income, a value for services to the family by the deceased, and some other measurable amounts. But the survivors can’t claim damages for their pain and suffering from the loss of the victim, as they can in some other states.

However, New York law does allow recovery of damages for the pain and suffering of victims themselves, if that can be proven. One case last year awarded significant damages for exactly that reason.


New York Wrongful Death Lawyer

If you believe that the loss of a close family member was due to the wrongful act or negligence of another, a wrongful death claim may be in order. At Greenstein & Milbauer, LLP, our team of attorneys has extensive experience helping clients navigate the often complicated issues involved in their wrongful death cases. We offer every client a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss their case and help them understand the options available, so give us a call at 1-800-VICTIM2 (842-8462) or contact us online through the form below to schedule yours.


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