Find an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer
The pain of losing someone you love can be devastating. But when the person died needlessly due to someone else’s actions, it compounds the pain of your loss. If this has happened to you, we know that nothing can truly fix the wrong that has been done. But the compassionate attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can guide you through the process of pursuing a wrongful death claim against those who were to blame, helping you to bring them to justice and get compensation.
What Is Wrongful Death?
In a legal context, a wrongful death claim is a legal action brought by surviving family members for damages when a person’s death is the result of the negligent or unlawful act of another individual.
Wrongful death cases may arise from construction accidents, death during a supervised activity, medical malpractice, police misconduct, product liability cases involving defective and/or dangerous products, occupational exposure to hazardous substances or conditions, and vehicle accidents.
Wrongful deaths may also include murder or other crimes, and many wrongful death trials follow criminal trials. An individual who is deemed liable for a wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime associated with that death. For instance, a defendant may be found not guilty of murder if the prosecution is unable to establish their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but since the standard of proof is lower for civil actions, that same defendant may be found liable with the help of a wrongful death lawyer.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The personal representative of the deceased, who is typically appointed by a surrogate court, may bring a wrongful death action. The representative must prove that the defendant acted negligently and that the negligence caused the deceased person’s death. The representative must also show that there is a surviving spouse, child/children or other beneficiaries or dependents and that the survivor(s) suffered financial damage due to the wrongful death.
Two types of damages that may be recovered in wrongful death cases are economic losses and the deceased’s pain and suffering before their death. Survivors may not recover for their own pain and suffering.
Elements of an Estate’s Economic Recovery
The estate’s economic recovery may include the reasonable value of earnings lost between the time of the injury and the time of death, the cost of medical or nursing care prior to the death, funeral expenses, and the cost of support and services. Damage awards from wrongful death actions belong to the estate and may be passed to different parties in accordance with the decedent’s will.
If the surviving spouse remarries, any potential reward is not reduced.
Children of the deceased may also recover damages for the loss of parental nurturing, guidance, and education.
Financial injuries, also known as pecuniary injuries, are the main measure of damages in a wrongful death action. Courts interpret such injuries to include loss of support and services, loss of the prospect of an inheritance, medical expenses, and funeral expenses.
Laws generally provide that the damages awarded for a wrongful death should be fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries as a result of the decedent’s death. Should distributees of the lawsuit have been responsible for the decedent’s funeral or medical care, they may also recover expenses for those events. Damage awards also include interest from the date of the decedent’s death.
Because the measure of damages is actual pecuniary loss, the decedent’s age, character, condition, earning capacity, life expectancy, health, and intelligence are considered. The distributees’ circumstances are also reviewed, but generally, the main consideration is the decedent’s circumstances at the time of their death. The jury may consider the deceased’s earnings at the time of death, the decedent’s last known earnings, if the decedent was unemployed, and the decedent’s potential future earnings.
While the jury determines the size of the damage award after hearing the evidence, the jury’s determination is not always the final decision. The award size may be adjusted up or down by the court. If the decedent routinely misspent their income, for instance, this may decrease the family’s recovery. If the decedent was a poor earner but was young, had career potential, and supported a number of children, the award may be greater. In fact, the court may award lost earnings even if the decedent was unemployed if they had worked in the past and evidence was shown of their average earnings when employed.
Distributees also may be able to recover damages for personal injury to the decedent by bringing what is known as a survival action; the personal injury action survives the person who suffered the injury. The decedent’s personal representative may bring this type of action along with a wrongful death action to benefit the decedent’s estate. If you pursue a personal injury claim alongside a wrongful death lawsuit, an attorney may have to field questions from the jury that can determine the damage amount, including the decedent’s degree of consciousness, pain severity, and fear of impending death as well as the duration of this suffering.
If the decedent was a homemaker, plaintiffs may present expert testimony that establishes the value of the decedent to their family. The financial impact on the survivors will not involve income loss, but increased spending for the services that they provided or would have provided had they lived will be considered in the award. Keep in mind that jurors may not always understand the monetary value of a homemaker’s services; your wrongful death attorney may have to bring in an expert to assist the jury with this evaluation.
Punitive damages may be awarded in general negligence lawsuits involving serious or malicious wrongdoing. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from behaving in the same manner. Typically, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action, but statutes in some states do allow for this. In states that do not explicitly allow or disallow punitive damages in wrongful death actions, courts have typically held punitive damages allowable.
When Must a Wrongful Death Action Occur?
Each state has its own civil wrongful death statute, which outlines procedures for bringing wrongful death actions as well as the deadline for taking legal action. In New York, you generally have two years from the date of death to bring a wrongful death suit, but exceptions may apply depending on the specifics of your case.
Get Help Filing a
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence, an experienced wrongful death attorney with Parker Waichman can help you bring them to justice. Our wrongful death law firm has years of experience handling these types of cases with sensitivity and tenacity, and we’ll fight hard for your legal rights.
When you contact us, you’ll be able to consult with one of our skilled wrongful death lawyers for free, and you’ll be under no obligation: We’ll merely evaluate your case and provide guidance on what steps you might want to take next. Then, if you choose to entrust your wrongful death suit to our law firm, we’ll get to work right away to compile the strongest possible case, again at no cost to you. We handle wrongful death lawsuits on a contingency-fee basis, meaning that you’ll pay nothing out of pocket for our services. Your wrongful death lawyer will be paid from a portion of your settlement or jury award; if we don’t secure compensation for you, we get nothing.
To learn more about your legal rights, call Parker Waichman today at 1-800-YOUR-LAWYER (1-800-968-7529).