Staten Island Wrongful Death Lawyers
The concept of “wrongful death” is hard to grasp; any time you lose someone you love, death feels incomprehensible and just plain wrong. You are left behind to deal with grief and distress. But when your loved one died because of the negligence or intentional harm of another, you may also feel outraged.
The person or entity responsible for the death should pay compensation to family members, but the deceased is unable to file a claim. Therefore, someone else must file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. That’s where a Staten Island personal injury lawyer can help.
Injuries are a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the unintentional injury death rate has increased by 40 percent between 1999-2017. Some of this increase is due to the opioid crisis (11 percent) and falls (5 percent), especially among older people. In 2017, unintentional injuries reached the highest number recorded in the United States – 169,936.
Although New York ranked number one, with the fewest unintentional deaths in 2018, unintentional injuries are a leading cause of death among all age groups in New York State and are the top killer of New Yorkers aged 1-34 years. More than 4,300 New Yorkers die every year as a result of an unintentional injury.
A wrongful death case can arise from any type of personal injury case. Before we enacted wrongful death and survival laws, the family of the deceased could not sue for damages. The personal representative may file a wrongful death claim against the person or entity who is responsible for the death to compensate the heirs of the deceased.
The wrongful death of a loved one leaves you shocked and overwhelmed. You may find it difficult to deal with the legal and financial issues that arise after a death. Wrongful death laws are complex, so it is important to consult an experienced wrongful death lawyer so that you can obtain the settlement you deserve.
What Is a Wrongful Death in New York?
What happens if a person is injured because of the negligence or intentional harm of another person or entity, but dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit? If someone is injured in an accident and those injuries result in his or her death, that person’s heirs are entitled to compensation. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. That means it can be filed in civil court whether or not the person who caused the harm faces a criminal conviction. If the wrongful death lawsuit is successful, the heirs will receive financial compensation for the losses associated with the death.
The New York Estates, Powers and Trust Laws (EPTL) govern wrongful death actions. Under EPT §5-4.1, the personal representative of your loved one’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. The statute is a pecuniary loss statute, which means that the decedent’s legal representative must prove pecuniary loss, including loss of support for the decedent’s next of kin caused by the decedent’s lost earnings.
Part 4 of the Estates, Powers and Trust Laws requires proof of five elements to establish a valid claim for wrongful death:
- A death,
- Caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendant,
- Giving rise to a cause of action the deceased could have pursued in court if death had not occurred
- Survival by one or more persons who have suffered a loss as the result of the death, and
- Damages the estate can recover.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?
In some states, members of the decedent’s family can file wrongful death lawsuits, claiming compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of the death. The process is a little different in New York. In New York, the only party permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit is the estate’s designated personal representative. A family member may not bring a wrongful death claim to court unless that person is also the personal representative of the estate. Family members can still recover compensation for their losses, but the process is more complicated than in some other states.
The personal representative files the wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate seeking compensation losses that are a result of the death, including damages incurred by the estate, the decedent’s heirs, as well as damages suffered by the deceased between the time of the injury and the time of death.
Family members who are generally eligible to receive compensation for their damages caused by the death include:
- Children of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased
- Spouse of the deceased
- Siblings of the deceased (in some cases)
- Cousins of the deceased (in some cases)
If the children of the deceased are minors, the court may represent a legal guardian or custodian to represent their interests.
What Accidents Give Rise to a Wrongful Death Claim?
If an individual dies as a result of the negligent or intentional act of another, a wrongful death claim may arise. Many types of personal injury cases lead to wrongful death claims. Work injuries may fall under the worker’s compensation system. A variety of circumstances may lead to a wrongful death action, including:
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Truck accidents
- Premises liability
- Slip and fall injuries
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Construction or workplace accidents
- Nursing home neglect
- Product liability
- Firearm accidents
- Intentional acts of violence
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
People are often confused about the burden of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit. In a criminal court, the prosecutor would need to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant accused of the crime is guilty. However, in civil court, the burden of proof for a wrongful death claim is the preponderance of the evidence standard (or in other words, more likely than not). To prove a wrongful death claim by a preponderance of the evidence, you must also show that the defendant owed a duty of care and that he or she breached that duty.
The breach of duty must be a direct cause of death, and the accident was the foreseeable cause of the injuries. You must also prove that the death caused the damages you are claiming. It is an easier threshold to meet than in criminal courts, and the survivors can receive damages whether or not the person responsible for the death is convicted of a crime.
Even though a wrongful death claim is similar to a negligence lawsuit, the elements of the claim, evidentiary rules, and other laws differ from the rules that govern negligence claims. Wrongful death claims can be extremely complicated and difficult to prove. Part of what makes these cases so hard is that the victim cannot explain what happened or answer questions.
Therefore, New York courts have permitted relaxed standards of proof in a wrongful death case. The court instructs jurors to consider facts that the decedent might have testified to had he or she survived. This allows the jury to consider a wider range of evidence when reaching its verdict.
To build a strong wrongful death case, the attorney for the plaintiff must piece together the facts using research, and the testimony of experts. Depending on the case, liability experts, causation experts, and damages experts can testify and provide documentation in a wrongful death action.
Wrongful death may happen in many different circumstances. If the incident occurred at a construction site, you might need testimony from an engineer. In the case of a car accident, there may be a dispute about who caused the accident. An accident reconstruction expert will review the facts and circumstances of the collision and then offer an opinion about exactly how the accident occurred.
This expert will probably visit the accident scene, take measurements and pictures, and collect any other evidence to help determine how the accident occurred. If the case involves medical malpractice, you will need qualified medical experts.
How Are Wrongful Death Damage Amounts Determined?
While it is almost impossible to place a financial value on a person’s life, to award a fair settlement, the court must try to assess the financial and personal impact of the death on the survivors. Several factors, such as age, life expectancy, education, and earnings, may help determine the amount of the wrongful death award. The goal of a wrongful death lawsuit is to ensure compensation for the survivors that the victim has left behind for the financial loss they will experience due to the wrongful and untimely death of the victim.
The court usually considers claims for the lost earnings of the deceased, or the future net lost accumulations to the person’s estate. Losing a loved one and the economic damages they could have provided has a profound economic effect on the survivors. To calculate damages such as loss of earnings, health insurance benefits, or retirement earnings, you will need the services of an actuary, economist, or other financial professionals.
A surviving spouse and dependent children may suffer an economic loss as a result of the death. However, their losses go far beyond lost earnings. The damage claim may include loss of services to the decedent’s spouse as well as loss of parental care and guidance to the decedent’s children. Even if the decedent never held a job, he or she may have contributed in some other way to the family. If the decedent was a stay-at-home husband or wife who contributed services, guidance, and nurturing of the family, these contributions are “pecuniary losses” in a wrongful death action.
Facts proven in court are the basis for an award of damages. New York wrongful death cases have awarded damages for losses such as:
- Final expenses, such as funeral and burial costs
- Medical care related to the deceased person’s final injury or illness
- Income and benefits lost between the time of the injury and death
- The loss of services and support provided by the deceased
- The value of a parent’s care, nurturing, and guidance to surviving children
- The loss of an inheritance by surviving children
- The deceased’s pain and suffering caused by the final injury or illness. When determining the value of pain and suffering, the court will usually consider the same factors used to determine pain and suffering damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
- Punitive damages, which are are rare and depend on the facts of a particular case. If the court determines that the defendant’s conduct was outrageous, malicious, or willful, it may award punitive damages. The court awards punitive damages to punish the defendant and discourage others from similar outrageous conduct.
In wrongful death lawsuits, New York is among the few states that do not allow surviving family members to recover compensation for their mental anguish. Therefore, compensation for pain and suffering can be awarded on behalf of the decedent, but not his or her survivors.
Statute of Limitations
Generally, the personal representative must bring the wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the date of the person’s death. If the decedent’s personal representative is a child or is legally unable to file the claim, New York does not stop, or “toll,” the statute of limitations from running. If the wrongful death action is against a public authority or public benefit corporation, the action may only proceed if a notice of claim has been properly served on the authority or corporation according to New York general municipal law.
An attorney can examine the facts of your case, and advise you of any deadlines you need to comply with in pursuing an action for damages.
Why You Need a Staten Island Wrongful Death Lawyer
New York has some of the most limited and complex wrongful death laws in the United States. Sadly, no amount of money can give you back your loved one. However, with the assistance of an experienced attorney, surviving family members can receive the compensation they deserve. At Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, our lawyers have the skill and compassion to guide you through the process. For a free case evaluation, call (877)-565-2993 or contact us online.