There really is no limit to the amount of money that you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. As with most cases, it depends on the facts and circumstances. The wrongful death laws vary considerably from state to state. In New York, the law is very specific as to who can recover and how much.
The first step in understanding how much money you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit is understanding who can recover. In New York, the first thing you will need to know is if the deceased has a will. If the person has a will, then the will should identify an Executor or Executrix. This is the person who will file the lawsuit on behalf of the lost loved one and their family. It is important to note that this person does not have to be a family member. If there is no will, then it is likely that a spouse, parent or adult child will be appointed. If someone is appointed to represent the estate, they are called an administrator or administratrix.
As far as who is entitled to recovery, for the most part this is the members of the deceased’s estate. This will again first include the spent. If there is no spouse, then the children of the deceased and the deceased’s parents. Generally, the spouse and surviving children are given priority under the law. If there is no spouse, children or surviving parents, then siblings may be able to recover. It should be noted that a will can alter who can recover, even in the circumstance of wrongful death.
In New York, there are certain limitations as to how much money you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. The most important limitation in New York is that the family of a deceased love one cannot recover for emotional distress. This is a heartless law that remains on the books in New York at the behest of insurance companies and large corporations. This means that if your loved one is killed as a result of someone else’s negligence, you cannot recover for your personal pain and anguish. Despite this horrific portion of the law, there are areas where a victim’s family can recover.
The first is what is called pecuniary damages. These damages are usually calculable economic costs. Most of the time, items considered pecuniary damages are medical expenses, funeral or burial costs, lost wages from the deceased which would have continued if not for the accident, calculable services like health insurance or child care and finally, the parental guidance to children.
The parental guidance claim strays a bit from the purely calculable services addressed above. Even these have limitations. The best way to go about this is to make sure there is proof of the type of guidance the parent provided, such as counseling, tutoring, or coaching and then turn that into economic damages by converting it to the cost of the same services from a professional. While this may seem crass, it is the only way that New York allows a child to attempt to recover for the full loss of a parent.
While the family may not recover for their personal pain and suffering, the estate can recover for the pain and suffering of the victim. How much money you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit for pain and suffering depends on what you can prove about the accident. Essentially there are two main categories, fear of impending death and pain and suffering. The fear of impending death often comes into play in falling accidents or violent crashes where the victims would have been aware of likely impending death during the time of the accident and afterward. Pain and suffering generally refers to the pain experienced by the victim after the accident. This can be shown even if the victim appears to be unconscious at the time. It is important that you have experts address how the brain experiences pain so that the jury can fully understand.
Nobody wants to be in a situation to need a personal injury lawyer. However, if you are, you need one who knows how to recover for you and your family. A fatal accident causes pain, fear and uncertainty. It is important that you have someone in your corner helping you through this awful time.