When a loved one dies it is of course devastating to the survivors, but another layer of grief is added when the death was caused by negligence or a deliberate wrongful act. While nothing can truly make up for the loss of a family member, a wrongful death action allows survivors to recover compensation for the decedent's pain and suffering as well as for their own damages resulting from the death.
Wrongful death can have a multitude of causes, including motor vehicle accidents, sporting injuries, medical malpractice, defective products, dangerous drugs, reckless behavior and physical attacks. Liability arises if the person causing the death acted negligently or with wanton disregard for the safety of others. A homicide or other criminal act is also a basis for a wrongful death suit.
In New York State, a lawsuit filed after a tragic death may include two distinct claims: wrongful death and survival. The wrongful death claim is brought on behalf of the decedent's family members for their losses, while the survival claim seeks damages that the decedent could have sought had he or she survived the fatal incident. In either case, the damages recovered flow to the decedent's estate and are distributed to the estate beneficiaries, which include the deceased's spouse, children and parents.
Once the other party's fault is established, there are numerous forms of damages that can be recovered:
- Survivors' damages — Family members can recover their outlays for medical care of the deceased and for funeral and burial expenses. Also recoverable are loss of income and benefits that the decedent earned, loss of care and companionship that the decedent provided and mental anguish and emotional distress resulting from the death.
- Decedent's damages — Death does not always come immediately. An accident or attack victim may linger for some time, during which they may experience pain and suffering as well as economic expenses and loss of income. These damages are recoverable in a survival action.
- Punitive damages — In cases of extreme recklessness or malicious intent, the jury may award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Examples are accidents caused by drunken driving or by a product a manufacturer knew was defective or dangerous when putting it to market. Punitive damages are meant to send a message that may deter such behavior.
New York law allows two years from the time of the death to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. After that window, you may forever lose your chance for compensation.
If a loved one has met an untimely death due to an accident or other incident, you may be eligible to seek damages from the party at fault. At Orak & Associates, PC in Pearl River, New York, we can help you pursue your legal remedies. You can reach us at 917-216-8819 or contact us online for a free consultation.