Personal injury cases are designed to provide compensation to people who were hurt by someone else’s negligence. Unlike a criminal court, the defendant doesn’t serve jail time or community service if they lose. Instead, they will owe money to the plaintiff, the person suing them. Personal injury suits typically involve someone who survived their injuries, but this is not the case in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death is a kind of personal injury lawsuit. It bears all the same traits as a typical case, only the injured party is now deceased and not filing the lawsuit themselves. This death could be immediate, where someone is instantly killed in a car wreck, or the death could happen later, where the injured party doesn’t recover but instead passes away due to their injuries. This is known as a “fatal injury.”
Who files the lawsuit in a wrongful death case? Someone must represent the deceased and sue on their behalf. In the state of New York, the personal representative (or “PR”) of the estate can sue on behalf of the deceased and their family.
An “estate” is the totality of someone’s property. Technically, anyone who owns any property has an estate. When discussing a death, you typically use the word “estate” to describe any assets that were left over after they died.
In New York, courts appoint someone to manage an estate after a death. This person is the estate’s “personal representative,” or “PR.” The PR has a big responsibility. They must pay off any leftover bills and debts of the deceased. After valuing the property that is left over, PRs must distribute it. The property distribution can be detailed in a will, where specific property if left to specific people. When there is no will, property is doled out with a system called “intestate succession.” Predetermined by the state, this is a very specific chain of heirs who receives portions of the deceased’s assets. A PR must be a legal adult, competent to do the job (as determined by the courts), and have a clean criminal record.
People can name personal representatives in their will. If no one has been named, courts use a list of heirs similar to an intestate succession list. For example, the spouse of the deceased is first in line to become a PR. If the deceased had no spouse, or the spouse is unwilling or unable to fulfill the role, PR duties go the next person. The chain goes on from there, naming different relatives who could be appointed PRs. When there is no one left on the list, the state will be forced to appoint a professional PR to do the job.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff attempts to recover financial compensation, known as “damages,” for their injuries. They are asking that the court make the defendant pay for the financial loss they suffered because of their injuries.
When the injured party is dead, that financial burden is passed on to the living family. Perhaps the deceased spent some time in the hospital, where the healthcare staff worked hard to save their life. That medical cost still exists, and it falls onto the family.
There are many kinds of damages that can be named in a wrongful death lawsuit. The family can sue for funeral expenses, including coffins, cremation costs, cemetery fees, headstone expenses, urns, etc. If the deceased was the breadwinner in the family, their loss will have a huge financial impact. A wrongful death case can request compensation for those lost wages, keeping the family afloat until a new source of income is acquired. The defendant may also be asked to pay for missed future earnings. If the deceased had been advancing in their career and stood to make far more money, that loss will be felt. Loss of future earnings also affects a loss of future inheritance, which can also be included in a lawsuit.
Injury lawsuits may involve damages in the form of “pain and suffering.” In this claim, the plaintiff’s lawyers calculate how many days their client suffered and then tabulate that into a compensatory dollar amount. In New York, wrongful death lawsuits have no provisions for emotional harm, meaning you cannot ask for pain and suffering damages.
There is, however, a way to be compensated for a loss of tangible, concrete support that the deceased provided. For example, when a two-parent family suddenly becomes a single-parent family, the spouse and the children have lost far more than just the finances. There are genuine services that are now missing from the home such as childcare, housework, financial planning, etc.
The loss of guidance for the children may also be included in a wrongful death lawsuit. Perhaps the deceased was the disciplinarian in the home; or maybe they were the parent who talked with the kids after the discipline. There is no sum of money that can replace those elements, but a wrongful death lawsuit can provide a financial cushion, benefitting a single parent who must learn how to readjust.
Who Can Receive Compensation?
According to New York law, only close relatives may receive compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Other relatives such as cousins, aunts, and uncles may also receive damages if they were named in the will. The bulk of the reward, however, goes to immediate family. The state distributes the money in a system similar to intestate succession. PRs dole out the reward to deserving family members.
If you’ve lost a close relative due to someone else’s negligent behavior, reach out to us for a free consultation. We care about our clients, and we will listen to your story. Let us put together a plan to help you get the justice you deserve. Call (607) 228-8404 or contact us online today.