Your Legal Rights When a Loved One Dies

There is nothing more terrible or heartbreaking for a parent to experience than the loss of a child. This death becomes even more difficult to understand and make peace with if it happens as a consequence of someone else’s bad acts.

Take, for example, the case of Daniel Halliday, a nine-year-old from Kingman, Arizona. Daniel died after the car he was riding in was hit by a pickup truck driven by Tina Michelle Means. Blood tests revealed that Means had a .26 blood alcohol level at the time of the crash. A jury recently sentenced her to 30 years in prison for Daniel’s death and civil lawsuits are pending.

In situations such as this, loved ones may consider filing a wrongful death suit.

About New York Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims may be filed in any situation in which one person’s negligent acts cause the death of another. This includes motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents and deaths attributed to dangerous products, for example. Wrongful death actions may be filed against a person, business, company or other organization. For example, if a person is killed by a driver who had too much to drink at the local watering hole, then the victim’s family could possibly bring a wrongful death claim against the driver as well as the bar that furnished the alcohol to the driver.

Parties can also file wrongful death actions against a local or state government agency if a government employee is responsible for the death. This includes situations in which a government worker is driving a city-owned vehicle and causes an accident that results in the death of another person.

Wrongful death actions are meant to help family members recover some of the unexpected expenses that may come with a loved one’s untimely death, like medical bills, funeral costs and attorney fees as well as other pecuniary losses (i.e. actual monetary losses). Examples of pecuniary losses include loss of future support, loss of future services and loss of parental guidance.

If the decedent is a child, pecuniary losses can be harder to determine, but generally include things such as the parent’s current and future loss of the child’s assistance and services.

In general, wrongful death claims are not meant to help families recover for their own non-pecuniary losses, sometimes referred to as non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of companionship and consortium.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

In New York, only a personal representative of the deceased may bring a wrongful death claim. Usually this is the executor of the decedent’s estate, but if there is no executor or if the executor refuses to bring the claim on the behalf of the family, then the family can petition the court to name a personal representative for them.

A cause of action for wrongful death only can be maintained if the decedent would have been able to bring a legal claim for his or her losses against the responsible party had he or she lived. For example, if the decedent was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, the decedent would have been able to sue the drunk driver for damages had he or she lived. But if the decedent was the drunk driver and died as a result of hitting another person’s car, then a wrongful death action generally could not be brought on behalf of the decedent because the decedent’s bad acts caused the accident.

A family does not lose the right to bring a wrongful death claim if the person responsible for their loved one’s death also dies, whether as a result of the same accident or due to another cause. In these cases, the family can file the wrongful death claim against the responsible person’s estate. If the wrongful death claim is successful, then the family will be paid out of the proceeds of the estate as a creditor.

Holding Wrongdoers Accountable

There is nothing that the law can do to bring back a loved one whose life has been senselessly taken by another person. The law, however, can be used to help hold the responsible party liable for their actions and to help ease some of the grieving family’s financial burden.

For more information on pursuing a wrongful death claim, contact an experienced attorney today. Under New York law, families generally only have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death action.