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What is Wrongful Death Compensation?

Wrongful death is defined as “the taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.” In order to sue for wrongful death, it must be proven that the acts or omissions of the defendant were the proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries and death. This means that the defendant’s wrongful conduct must have created a natural, direct series of events that led to the injury.

In New York, family members and other closely related parties to the deceased can be compensated for wrongful death under New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law 5-4.1 to 6. This Act provides who may be compensated and who may not, and includes the following individuals:

  • A spouse who is supported by the deceased
  • Children of the deceased whether marital children or not
  • Only in an instance where there are no children, the parents of the deceased
  • A non-spouse may not be compensated, regardless of the length of time the parties resided together

In dealing with the question of damages, the Act states that plaintiffs are entitled to money for damages such as loss of income, reasonable expenses paid for health care, and burial of the deceased. The award may also reflect the value of services to the family that they will be deprived of due to the absence of the deceased. Interest on this sum may be ordered from the date of the deceased’s death. If the death occurred after 1982, then punitive damages may be awarded in a case where they would have been awarded to the decedent if they survived the incident (usually these damages are reserved for extreme cases of willfulness in the act or omission). Income taxes the decedent would have paid may be deducted from the total award. There is no award allowed for pain and suffering and nothing for loss of companionship to the spouse or children.

There is an old saying that goes “The award at trial is cheaper if the injured person dies, than if he lives.” Under the NYS law, this is absolutely true. The best way to maximize the award for any wrongful death situation is to work with a lawyer who knows how to win these cases. Give our firm a call if you need help with yours.

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