Overview of New York Wrongful Death Law

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If you have lost a loved one due to anotherís negligent or reckless behavior, it is important to understand New Yorkís wrongful death law. These types of matters are handled outside of the criminal justice system, even if the defendantís conduct involved some type of criminal action.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in New York

Only certain individuals are permitted to bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit in New York. Only a decedentís personal representative can bring forth a claim of this nature. If he or she prevails in the lawsuit, the proceeds become part of the decedentís estate and are distributed according to the decedentís will.

Types of Situations that Give Rise to a Wrongful Death Action

There are many types of situations that can rise to the level of wrongful death. One common scenario for a wrongful death case is an accidental death that may be due to negligence, such as an automotive accident, slip and fall accident, workplace accident, defective product case or medical malpractice. In other situations, a wrongful death case may result from murder, domestic violence or assault.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

If the wrongful death case is based on the legal theory of negligence, the personal representative through his or her legal counsel is required to establish the following elements:


The personal representative must be able to show that the defendant acted in a negligent manner. This may require showing that the defendant owed some legal duty to the decedent, such as driving in a cautious manner and violated this duty. He or she may show what a reasonably prudent person would have done under the circumstances.


There must be a causal link between the defendantís actions and the victimís death.


In a wrongful death case, it must also be established that the decedent had people who depended on him or her. This may be a spouse, children or other individuals. Alternatively, there can be beneficiaries of his or her estate.

Economic Damages

It must also be shown that decedentís survivors suffered some type of economic damage because of the decedentís death.

Damages that Can Be Claimed in Wrongful Death Cases

The decedentís estate may be able to recover certain economic damages that the survivors suffered. Additionally, they may be able to recover for the decedentís pain and suffering before his or her death. Some of the potential damages that survivors may be able to receive include the cost of the decedentís medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost work from the time of the injury and the time of death, lost earnings from the time of death until the decedent likely would have been able to continue to work, loss of services such as housekeeping or childcare and loss of nurturing and guidance. If the defendantís actions were particularly egregious, the plaintiff may be able to seek punitive damages. These damages are reserved for the most heinous cases and are designed to punish the wrongdoing of the defendant.

Special Rules

There are special rules for certain types of wrongful death cases. For example, a wrongful death lawsuit against a medical provider such as a physician, physician assistant, pharmacist, hospital, clinic or therapist has to follow the rules related to medical malpractice claims. In these cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant provided a level of care below the accepted standard of care for another healthcare professional in the same specialty and location.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases

If the case is based on the legal theory of negligence, you have two years from the decedentís death to file a lawsuit. However, if the wrongful death claim is based on a criminal act and the person is charged with a crime, the lawsuit must be filed within one year from the end of the defendantís criminal act, whether or not he or she was found guilty for the offense and whether or not his or her criminal act ended within two years of the decedentís death. Even if the defendant is not convicted for the underlying offense, the personal representative can still bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. The burden of proof is higher in a criminal case, so there may be mixed results in wrongful death cases.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Assistance

If you would like assistance with your wrongful death claim to seek damages for the loss of a loved one, contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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