New York’s Wrongful Death Law, Explained

A grieving older woman is counseled by a younger, female therapist.

The loss of a spouse, parent, child, or loved one is something no one wants to imagine, as seeing our lives without them can be unbearable. While death often comes as a surprise, tragic events that cause wrongful deaths happen more often than expected and can be incredibly challenging to deal with. When we learn of a death of a loved one caused by the fault of another, it’s natural to assume that the family of the deceased will be properly compensated for that loss. Unfortunately, under the archaic New York State Wrongful Death Law, which only a few states in the US still have, this is not true.

Limits with the New York State law

Many are surprised to learn that the law in New York State actually limits the damages that can be sought in death cases. In fact, surviving family members are not permitted to seek compensation for their emotional grief or loss, widows/widowers are not entitled to compensation for the loss of the marital relationship, and parents aren’t allowed to seek compensation for the emotional loss of their child. These limits are not only harsh, but also hard to comprehend, especially for those who are in the beginning stages of grieving their loved ones.

What compensation can be sought after?

It’s important to understand that the only compensation that can be sought in a case involving death is for the financial loss of the person who died (the decedent) or for the conscious pain and suffering they endured prior to their death. Essentially this means that if the decedent was earning income for the benefit of the family, this loss of income can be sought. In addition, if the decedent was a parent of a child, compensation for the loss of the nurture, care, and guidance of the parent to the child can also be sought. Finally, if there is proof of conscious pain and suffering, compensation can be sought for that as well.

Some of the toughest cases that Mark T. Freeley, the North Shore Injury Lawyer, has experienced involve the death of a child or an elderly family member. In these cases, there is often no evidence of conscious pain and suffering and there is usually no economic loss that can be proven either. This makes it so any compensation that can be sought is very small (unless the survivor was in the “zone of danger” and witnessed the death). It’s impossible to imagine the loss of a child and it is even more painful when you learn that the New York State law doesn’t permit compensation for any emotional loss felt as a result of that death.

Important things to note about New York’s Wrongful Death law

It’s important to remember that only specific individuals can bring a wrongful death suit in New York including the decedent’s spouse, children, and parents, or the personal representative for the estate of the decedent. In order to file a wrongful death lawsuit in New York, there are a few specific requirements that must be shown.

These requirements include the death certificate, proof that the death was caused by wrongful conduct or negligence of another, and evidence showing there are survivors who have suffered damages due to the death. Another important thing to note is that any lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the person’s death

Changes that are being fought for

Every year the New York State Trial Lawyers Association speaks to our legislators about changing this senseless law, yet it unfortunately still remains in effect due to the powerful influence of insurance companies. The best chance we have to have this law changed is to ensure that more and more people know about this law and how unjust it truly is. If you are interested in making a difference, you can contact our lawmakers in Albany and let them know you think it’s time for a change.