Wrongful Death Lawsuit FAQs

If you recently lost a loved one to an accident caused by someone else's negligence, you likely have a lot of questions. You may have heard the term "wrongful death," or even been advised by friends or other family members to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. After losing a loved one, thinking about legal matters is likely one of the furthest things from your mind. However, filing a wrongful death claim to recover damages you lost as a result of your loved one's death can help provide you not only with peace of mind, but with necessary funds to help you deal with the aftermath of a loved one's unexpected passing.

If you are considering bringing a wrongful death case in New York, one of your first steps should be speaking with a wrongful death attorney who can help answer any and all questions you have about wrongful death cases, and your case specifically. Until then, for your convenience, the lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy have compiled answers to questions we are frequently asked about wrongful death cases.

Remember, there is no substitute for the advice of a skilled wrongful death lawyer; don't hesitate to call us at 212-736-5300 to speak with one today.

Common Wrongful Death Questions

Do I have a wrongful death case?
If a family member has died as a result of someone else's negligence, then you could have a wrongful death case. "Negligence" is defined by the New York City Bar as the failure to act with a reasonable amount of care. For instance, drivers have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road while driving, and companies have a duty to ensure their products are manufactured correctly and are safe for sale. Examples of wrongful death cases can include:

  • A car crash in which one of the drivers was intoxicated or driving recklessly
  • A construction accident in which the site manager did not take proper safety precautions
  • An MTA bus collision in which the bus fatally struck a pedestrian

Is there a time limit to file a wrongful death suit?
Yes. Wrongful death lawsuits in New York State must be filed within two years from the date of the victim's death.

How is a wrongful death lawsuit different from a personal injury lawsuit?
A personal injury claim arises when a person is injured in some way due to someone else's negligent behavior. Generally, a wrongful death lawsuit would have been a personal injury case, if the deceased person had survived. It is possible to file a wrongful death claim that was previously a personal injury claim, as long as you file the wrongful death case within New York's two-year statute of limitations, and before the current personal injury case has concluded.

Regardless of the scenario, if your loved one died as a result of someone's negligent or reckless behavior, then your lawsuit likely qualifies as wrongful death.

How do you prove wrongful death?
This varies from case to case, but according to the New York City Bar, the person bringing the case must be able to prove four things:

  • The defendant acted negligently
  • The negligent actions caused the victim's death
  • There is a surviving relative or relatives-likely a spouse or children
  • These surviving relatives have suffered financial damage as a result of the victim's death

What are wrongful death damages?
Wrongful death damages can vary based on each case. Wrongful death damages often include:

  • Medical expenses that covered the deceased's care before death
  • Funeral and burial expenses for the deceased
  • Loss of the deceased's future income
  • Loss of the deceased's companionship and/or parental guidance
  • Loss of any inheritance for the deceased's children
  • The pain and suffering that the deceased may have experienced before death; this can include mental suffering as well, such as pre-impact terror in the moments before death

Can survivors recover damages for emotional or mental suffering?
Unfortunately, New York law does not allow surviving family members to recover damages for their own emotional pain caused by their loved one's untimely demise. Survivors can only make a claim for the pain and suffering their deceased relative experienced before the moment of death.

How much can you sue for in a wrongful death case?
This varies based on the specifics of each case. As mentioned above, the amount of damages you can recover may include various costs and expenses. Factors that are often considered when determining the worth of a wrongful death case are the victim's age, life expectancy at the time of death, general health, and expected future income. These factors can affect the amount able to be recovered. For example, the family of a young wife and mother doing well in her career would likely be able to recover more in a wrongful death case than the family of a retired grandmother, since the family of the young woman would be able to make claims for her future expected earnings, as well as her children's loss of parental guidance. In contrast, the grandmother would likely not be contributing much in earnings to her surviving family at that point in her life, and it is likely her children are adults who would not, in the court's eyes, have lost much parental guidance.

In order to discuss how much your case may be worth, you should talk to a qualified wrongful death lawyer.

Can you bring a wrongful death case even if the deceased was unemployed at the time of death?
Yes. Even if the deceased did not have a source of income to recover compensation for, there are likely other damages you could make a claim for, such as loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance, or the pain and suffering of the deceased before death.

Who can bring a wrongful death claim?
In New York, only immediate family members can make a wrongful death claim. This includes the spouse, parents, or children of the deceased. Additionally, the relative who ends up bringing the case must be appointed by the court as the personal representative for the deceased's estate before they can bring the case.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death case?
How money from a wrongful death settlement is distributed varies by state law and the specifics of the case. In New York, since typically either the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased are bringing the case, the distribution of settlement funds is as follows:

  • If there are no children, the spouse receives the entirety of the settlement
  • If there are children and a spouse, the spouse receives $50,000 and half of the settlement balance, and the other half is divided equally between the children
  • If there are children but no spouse, the settlement is divided equally between the children
  • If there are no children and no spouse, the entirety of the settlement goes to the deceased's parents

How long does it take for a wrongful death case to end?
There is no set time; it varies according to the specifics of each case. Some settlements can be reached within a year, while others can take years to settle, or may even go to trial if a settlement cannot be reached. You should be prepared for any of these options when you decide to bring a wrongful death claim, but rest assured that Block O'Toole & Murphy lawyers will fight for you no matter how long your case takes to reach its conclusion.

Can you bring a wrongful death case for a child or elderly person?
Yes. However, these kinds of cases are typically harder to make a claim for than if the case was regarding an adult. This is because, for instance, it is harder to calculate the loss of a child's future earning capacity. And in the case of an elderly person, it might be assumed they do not have much of an earning capacity anymore or that any beneficiaries can support themselves and do not need financial help. You can read more about these kinds of cases here.

What is the difference between a civil and criminal case in terms of wrongful death?
In criminal cases, the state brings charges against the defendant, and if found guilty in court, the punishment is typically prison time.

In contrast, wrongful death cases in civil court are brought as a dispute between two people or entities, one of whom is accused of negligence that caused a death. If the accused-the defendant-is found to be liable for the death, then they are legally obligated to pay the surviving family for the damages they caused.

Additionally, the "burden of proof" is more strict in criminal cases than in civil ones. In civil cases, the person bringing the case would only have to prove, more likely than not, that the defendant acted negligently. In criminal cases, the defendant must be proved guilty "beyond all reasonable doubt."

Put a Proven Firm On Your Side

An experienced, compassionate attorney can make all the difference for you and your family as you begin putting the pieces back together after a tragic loss. At Block O'Toole & Murphy, we understand how difficult the aftermath of an unexpected death can be, and are here to help you get the compensation your family deserves.

We have extensive experience handling wrongful death cases, including a $15,000,000 settlement for a family who tragically lost their husband and father in an on-the-job construction accident. Other notable results include:

  • $7,525,000 settlement for a family whose mother and young son were killed in a tragic car accident in Long Island
  • $7,200,000 settlement for the wife and young children of a 25-year-old father who was killed in an elevator accident in Brooklyn
  • $5,000,000 settlement for the four children of a 47-year-old mother who was killed when a garbage truck ran off the road, hitting her while she was walking on the sidewalk
  • $3,000,000 settlement for the surviving family of a man who died in a Long Island car accident

We offer free consultations so you can learn more about your legal options for obtaining the compensation you deserve. Fill out our contact form any time to schedule an appointment or call us at 212-736-5300.