The nuts and bolts of wrongful death in New York

Even with the safety precautions of today's modern world, it is possible to lose a loved one because of someone's negligence in a car accident or construction accident. As a result of your loved one's death, you may face sudden and unexpected expenses such as loss of income or funeral expenses. Fortunately, New York law allows certain family members to recoup such losses through a wrongful death lawsuit.

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that is intended to compensate the deceased's dependents and close family members for economic losses resulting from the death. This type of lawsuit may be filed in virtually any circumstance where the deceased's death was caused by the wrongful or negligent conduct of a person or entity (e.g., car crash, medical malpractice, slip-and-falls, etc.).


The right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is governed by statute in New York. Under the law, the personal representative of the deceased's estate is the sole person eligible to file the lawsuit. Instead of the family members suing the responsible party individually, the personal representative files the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased's family members, who are also called beneficiaries.

Any damages recovered by the personal representative in the lawsuit are distributed to the beneficiaries. Only certain family members qualify as beneficiaries under the law. In most cases, the spouses and minor children are eligible to recover damages for wrongful death, but generally, any family members who can demonstrate a financial dependence on the deceased may qualify as beneficiaries.

Damages available

Under New York law, the damages that may be recovered in wrongful death lawsuits are limited to the actual monetary losses. As such, the beneficiaries' noneconomic damages such as mental anguish, pain and suffering or loss of companionship are not recoverable. Common damages that may be recovered are:

  • Loss of deceased's earnings
  • The reasonable value of support and services provided by the deceased
  • Loss of parental nurture, care as well as moral guidance
  • Pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Punitive damages (if the wrongful conduct was intentional, reckless or willful)

In addition to the above damages, reasonable medical, funeral and burial expenses may be recovered in all wrongful death lawsuits, regardless of whether the beneficiaries suffered any other monetary losses.

An attorney can help

As virtually all cases involving wrongful death involve complex liability issues, it is important to have the advice and counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding your claim and work to recover all due compensation.