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How to Sue for the Wrongful Death of a Family Member in New York

Posted on in Civil Litigation

Bronx wrongful death lawyerWhen a person dies in a tragic accident, their immediate family usually faces significant expenses related to the victim’s post-accident medical care and costs related to their funeral and burial, along with the lifetime loss of the decedent’s income and services. If the fatal accident was another party’s fault, the victim’s next-of-kin can file a wrongful death lawsuit to obtain compensation for their financial losses. 

A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit. When a victim is injured through another party’s fault, the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. If the injured person dies, their surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Grounds for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in New York

You can file a wrongful death lawsuit on the grounds that your family member was killed by:

  • A defective product, such as a flawed airbag in a car that improperly inflated or exploded. 
  • Another party’s knowing carelessness. For example, when proper safety procedures are not followed on a construction site, a construction worker or pedestrian may be killed by falling debris. 
  • A criminal act, as when a police officer causes a death as a result of negligence or intentional misconduct.

For example, suppose a jail inmate violently attacks another person, and the attacker is accidentally killed when a corrections officer uses reasonable force to subdue the attacker and prevent others from being hurt. Because the death was not the result of careless or wrongful actions, the inmate’s family likely cannot sue the corrections officer. On the other hand, if a jail inmate is killed by the negligence or misconduct of a corrections officer, the inmate’s family have legal grounds to sue the guard and the guard’s employer.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in New York

Wrongful death damages can only be claimed by a family member who is entitled to inherit from the victim under the applicable New York law and who has suffered a financial loss as a result of the victim’s death (NYEPTL Sec 4-1.1 and  Sec. 5-4). The victim’s next-of-kin are entitled to claim wrongful death damages in the following order:

  • If the victim was married and had no children, the spouse will be the beneficiary of the lawsuit. The victim’s parents, if still living, may also receive a share of the damages.
  • If the victim had a spouse and children, damages will be shared between the spouse and children. 
  • If the victim had no spouse and no children, the victim’s parents will be the beneficiaries.
  • If the victim had no spouse, no children, and no living parents, the victim’s siblings will be the beneficiaries.
  • In the absence of any of the above, a grandparent or other family member financially supported by the victim may be able to claim damages.

Damages will be distributed by the court in proportion to each beneficiary’s financial loss. Wrongful death actions cannot claim damages for loss of companionship, but a separate lawsuit known as a survival action may be filed by the victim’s estate to claim such damages (NYEPTL Sec 11-3).

Contact a Manhattan Wrongful Death Lawyer 

If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident caused by a defective and dangerous product, construction site negligence, or wrongful police conduct, contact an experienced New York City wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Your lawsuit must be filed within two years of the victim’s death. Contact the law offices of Watford Jackson, PLLC at 855-WAT-JACK or 855-928-5225. 

Sources:

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EPT/A5P4

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EPT/A11P3

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