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What is a Wrongful Death Civil Suit?

Nothing is more heartbreaking or emotionally gut-wrenching than losing a loved one in an avoidable accident. Although no amount of compensation can truly make things right, New York law allows families to pursue a civil wrongful death suit to hold defendants accountable for their recklessness or negligence.

You and your family deserve justice and financial support. In this article, our Albany wrongful death attorneys provide an overview of civil wrongful death suits in New York. 

Wrongful Death Claims Arise When Someone Dies Due to Negligence 

A wrongful death lawsuit is a specialized type of legal action. Under New York law, a wrongful death suit is filed against a defendant on behalf of the decedent’s loved ones. Through a civil claim, a personal representative of the victim’s estate can seek financial compensation for surviving family members. In New York, wrongful death liability is based on the theory of negligence.

To hold a defendant civilly liable for the death of a family member, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence—careless, reckless, or otherwise unlawful conduct—contributed to the accident. A civil wrongful death lawsuit can be filed in many different contexts, including: 

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Hospital malpractice
  • Worksite accidents
  • Defective product claims

A Civil Wrongful Death Claim is Separate from Any Related Criminal Charges

It is important to emphasize the difference between a civil claim and a criminal claim. As defined by the New York Courts, a civil case is “a lawsuit for money, to get property back, to force someone to complete a contract, or to protect someone’s civil rights.” A civil case is a separate and distinct legal action from any related criminal case. 

Some wrongful death cases may result in both civil and criminal liability. For example, imagine that your loved one was killed in a tragic collision with a drunk driver. The intoxicated driver is likely to be arrested and face very serious criminal charges as a consequence of their conduct. Criminal justice is important. However, a criminal case will not result in wrongful death compensation for the family members of the victim. A civil legal claim must be filed. 

Who Files a Wrongful Death Civil Suit in New York?

In many other states, a family member of the victim can file the wrongful death lawsuit directly. However, that is not true in New York. Under state law (New York Estate Powers and Trusts Law § 5-4.1), a civil wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by a personal representative of the estate. In most cases, the personal representative is the executor of the will. If there is no executor named in the decedent’s will, then a county court will appoint a trusted person to serve as the personal representative of the estate. 

Note: The personal representative is simply responsible for filing a claim on behalf of the immediate family members of the victim. Any compensation recovered in a civil wrongful death action still goes to the eligible family members, such as the surviving spouse or surviving children. 

Compensation Available in a Civil Wrongful Death Claim

As noted, civil claims are primarily about ensuring that family members and dependents get justice and financial support. Compensation can be recovered for economic damages. Through a civil wrongful death suit, you and your family may be eligible to recover financial compensation for: 

  • Medical bills incurred after the accident but before the death
  • Funeral expenses & burial expenses
  • Lost wages and other loss of earnings 
  • Loss of future earning potential
  • Loss of services that would have been provided by the victim

Unfortunately, New York state law does not allow the family members of the victim to recover direct financial compensation for their grief, anguish, loss of love, and other non-economic damages. If you are preparing to file a civil wrongful death claim, an experienced New York wrongful death attorney can help you and your family build a strong case to maximize your recovery. 

Call Our New York Wrongful Death Lawyers for Immediate Assistance 

At Powers & Santola, LLP, our New York wrongful death attorneys are passionate, reliable advocates for families. If you have any questions about civil wrongful death suits, we are here to offer guidance and support. Contact us now for a free, strictly private initial consultation. From our legal offices in Albany, Syracuse, and Rochester, our wrongful death lawyers serve communities throughout the entire region, including in Warren County, Fulton County, Montgomery County, Sullivan County, Dutchess County, and Washington County. 

Call Today! 518-465-5995

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