Who are Wrongful Death Beneficiaries in New York?

Wrongful Death New York

Like the wrongful death laws in most states, New York’s wrongful death statute, which is found in Section 5-4 of the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law, compensates survivors when a loved one dies because of someone else’s negligence.

For purposes of this law, “survivors” are usually spouses, children, and/or parents. Other close relatives, like siblings, are not survivors, at least in most cases.

If there are no statutory survivors, the decedent’s personal representative may file a wrongful death action and also act as beneficiary on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

If the decedent didn’t have a personal representative, a judge usually appoints one.

A wrongful death action is about more than compensation. Additionally, these actions help survivors find closure and also highlight the other party’s negligence.

A New York wrongful death lawyer gives survivors and personal representatives, most of whom have little or no experience in these matters, solid direction throughout the process.

Common Causes of Injury-Related Death

Since around 2015, the number of drug overdose and other unintentional poisoning deaths has risen from almost nothing to the top of this list.

As is often the case in a crisis of this magnitude, there is plenty of blame to go around. Where this blame lies in a particular case largely determines the legal options available.

Personal responsibility, or rather the lack of responsibility, obviously comes into play in these situations.

However, in most cases, personal responsibility is only a secondary cause, at most. Potentially lethal drugs like Fentanyl, Oxycontin, and other opioid painkillers do not appear out of thin air. The people get these drugs from somewhere.

In a few cases, a doctor is the other responsible party. Physicians have a legal duty to address their patients’ needs. That’s different from giving them what they want.

A patient might want a month’s supply of Vicodin to deal with the pain of a sprained knee. But that prescription is most likely not what the patient needs.

Much more frequently, primary fault lies with the drug manufacturer or drug shipping company. For many years, pain pill manufacturers competed with each other to produce the strongest possible pain reliever.

Although they knew these pain pills were also highly addictive, the manufacturers did not stop their ‘arms race’. As for shipping companies, the Controlled Substances Act requires these companies to ask questions before they ship drugs. They cannot simply cash the checks and blame someone else for any problems.

If the responsible party was a doctor, a negligence action is usually appropriate. Due to the size and scope of the drug company and drug shipment issues, most lawyers turn to mass tort cases, like public nuisance claims, in these areas.

Statistically, motor vehicle collisions are not far behind unintentional poisonings. Car crashes kill tens of thousands of people every year. Head injuries are the most common cause of death in these cases. These injuries are also difficult to diagnose.

Many head injury victims do not have signature symptoms, like unconsciousness. Furthermore, the brain usually conceals its own injuries. Therefore, many of these victims tell doctors they “feel fine” and the doctor does not follow up.

For the most part, these incidents are not “accidents.” Driver error causes over 90 percent of the vehicle collisions in New York. Driver impairment, such as driving under the influence of a substance or while sleepy, causes about half these collisions. Unjustifiable operational errors, like making a dangerous turn or speeding, cause most of the rest.

Legally, most motor vehicle collision claims involve the ordinary negligence rule or the negligence per se shortcut. Ordinary negligence is basically a lack of care.

This duty requires drivers to be fully alert and awake when they get behind the wheel. As for operational errors and negligence per se, if a tortfeasor (negligent driver) violates a safety law, and that violation substantially causes injury, the tortfeasor could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

In a New York wrongful death claim, these damages usually include pecuniary losses, such as:

  • Lost future financial support,
  • Medical bills related to the final illness or injury,
  • Lost future emotional support, and
  • Decedent’s pain and suffering.

Survivors might also be entitled to compensation for their own suffering and grief, usually under a separate legal theory, like negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Al the money in the world could not begin to fill the void that a wrongful death creates. However, compensation reduces the grief these survivors feel and gives them the resources they need to carry on with their lives.

Other wrongful death causes include swimming pool drownings, assaults, and falls. Usually, property owners are legally responsible for these deaths if they had a legal duty to protect the victim and they knew, or should have known, about the hazard which caused the injury.

Wrongful death survivors need and deserve compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.