Wrongful death, such as death from auto and truck accidents, is defined as a death that is caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another and that serves as the basis for a civil action for damages on behalf of the decedent's heirs. The Estate Powers and Trust Law (EPTL) of the New York State Constitution makes up New York's wrongful death statute. The law allows the personal representative of a decedent's estate the right to sue for pecuniary (monetary) loss on behalf of those persons who would recover under the estate. Damages are determined by the court in an amount it deems to be fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries the decedent incurred, resulting in his/her death. In determining what is fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries suffered by the decedent, the Court will consider reasonable expenses for medical aid, nursing, and funeral expenses, "in addition to every other lawful element." In a case of recklessness and/or depravity, punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant, are allowed. Personal income taxes, which the decedent would have been required to pay, will also be taken into consideration.
Compensation under wrongful death statutes can vary greatly from state to state. As a whole, however, other state statutes tend to allow for much greater recovery for the wrongful death of a loved one than NY's EPTL. For instance, in California, a victim's survivors can recover for financial support, the loss of gifts and benefits the victim may have received, the reasonable value of household services, the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support, the loss of training and guidance by the victim, and the loss of enjoyment of sexual relations with the victim.
New York State's EPTL is considerably narrow in the damages which it allows for wrongful death claims. Therefore, the courts have expanded the narrow language to include: (1) potential benefits the distributee may have received had the decedent lived; (2) future earnings; (3) the age and life expectancy of the decedent and the distributees he/she was supporting; and (4) the parental support that only a parent can provide if the distributees include minor children. Damages may include the loss of similar attributes provided by grandparents and may include consideration of lost inheritance, though difficult to ascertain.
If you believe you are entitled to compensation due to the wrongful death of a family member or friend, contact the attorneys of Smiley & Smiley, LLP online or call 212-986-2022. Smiley & Smiley, LLP handles wrongful death cases and other related areas of the law. Its most recent notable achievements include a $5,050,000 award for the family of a painter killed during the World Trade Center Reconstruction project and two separate awards of $1,600,000, one for the family of man crushed to death and a second involving a death in Chinatown. Smiley Law attorneys are skilled in wrongful death actions through their practice, their participation in the legal community, and their continuing education. Do not hesitate to contact Smiley Law if you think you may be entitled to compensation under New York's wrongful death statute.