Proving negligence in a wrongful death claim

If you’re thinking of filing a lawsuit against an individual who caused the death of someone close to you, you’ll need to consider how to prove negligence in a wrongful death case in New York. The means you’ll need to use to achieve this will depend on the specific circumstances of your case.

There are different elements to negligence, and establishing it to the satisfaction of a court can pose technical challenges. For that reason, you’ll need the assistance of a specialized wrongful death lawyer.

What Is Negligence?

In the context of personal injury law, negligence has a specific meaning and particular requirements. These form the standard for a successful case; unless you can show that the defendant has been legally negligent, you will not be entitled to damages.

In this context, negligence is a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.

Wrongful death claims typically rest on the plaintiff’s ability to prove that the defendant’s negligence directly resulted in the death of the decedent. This requires four key elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

  • Duty of care: The duty of care is a legal requirement individuals face while performing acts that could foreseeably harm others. For instance, every driver has a duty of care to drive safely and obey traffic laws.
  • Breach of duty: The breach of duty occurs when someone fails to meet their duty of care. This could be an action, like driving recklessly, or inaction, like failing to fix a known safety issue in a building that leads to a fatal accident.
  • Causation: You must be able to show that the defendant’s negligent or deliberate behavior caused your family member’s death. In other words, you must prove that the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence.
  • Damages: These refer to the actual harm or loss resulting from the death, like medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of income.

Comparative Negligence in New York

Under New York’s legal system, it’s possible to recover damages as a personal injury plaintiff even if you were partially at fault for your accident. This rule, which applies to wrongful death disputes, is called comparative negligence.

So, if your family member was 20% at fault for the accident that caused their death, and the defendant was 80% at fault, you would potentially be entitled to 80% of the overall damages incurred by their death.

In New York, this system applies even if the deceased person was more than 51% responsible for their accident. Other states use a system called modified comparative negligence, under which no damages are recoverable if the deceased individual bears the majority of the fault for the incident that led to their death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in New York?

Only parents, spouses, and children of deceased persons may file wrongful death lawsuits – siblings and other family members are generally ineligible.

Alternatively, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate. Should the lawsuit succeed, its proceeds would be divided among the beneficiaries of the estate in accordance with the deceased person’s will or the state’s laws on intestacy. This personal representative is typically named in the deceased person’s will. However, if no will exists or no personal representative is specified, the court may appoint someone, often a close relative.

How to Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case in New York?

What you need to prove a New York wrongful death claim will vary somewhat from case to case. Generally, though, you’ll need evidence of the following:

  • Death: You can usually satisfy this requirement with an autopsy report or a copy of your family member’s death certificate.
  • Negligent or intentional conduct by the defendant: The nature of this evidence will depend on the circumstances of the deceased person’s passing and the defendant’s part in it. For example, if the lawsuit relates to a road accident, you might support your case with CCTV footage of the defendant driving recklessly.
  • Causation: It’s important to note that causation can be difficult to establish, particularly in more complex, technical cases. That’s why you need a specialist lawyer with extensive experience in handling New York wrongful death actions.
  • Actual harm you’ve suffered due to the death: To prove that you’ve suffered economic losses from your loved one’s death, you could rely on receipts or invoices for funeral expenses, as well as evidence from their work proving your worsened financial situation following your loved one’s passing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kinds of damages are available in New York wrongful death cases?

As a wrongful death plaintiff in New York, you will be entitled to economic damages incurred as a result of your loved one’s passing and the accident that caused it. These might include funeral bills, medical expenses incurred prior to their death, and lost family earnings. Unlike other states, New York does not allow for the recovery of most types of noneconomic damages in wrongful death actions; this includes grief, loss of consortium, and mental anguish. However, you may be entitled to sue for pain and suffering the deceased person endured prior to their death.

What is the statute of limitations for New York wrongful death claims?

You generally have two years from the date of death to sue for wrongful death in the state of New York. It’s important to note that this is different from other personal injury actions in that the clock starts running from the day your family member dies, not the day of the accident.

Are there any exceptions to the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases?

There are some situations in which the statute of limitations may be extended in New York wrongful death cases, but these are uncommon. They include cases involving medical malpractice, ongoing criminal proceedings, and beneficiaries under the age of 18. To learn whether the statute of limitations will apply strictly in your case, you’ll have to consult with a wrongful death attorney.

What types of incidents most commonly cause wrongful deaths in New York?

The types of wrongful death cases we see most often involve car and truck crashes, construction accidents, medical malpractice, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents.

Getting the Representation You Need for Your New York Wrongful Death Claim

Losing a loved one, under any circumstances, is among the most difficult things you’ll ever have to face. However, when a family member dies because of the negligent conduct of some other party, that adds a further layer of pain and frustration. A wrongful death lawsuit could help you to secure justice for the deceased person and to deal with financial difficulties their passing has left you with.

If you’d like to learn more about wrongful death lawsuits and whether you might be entitled to file one, you can schedule a free initial consultation with us today. Get in contact via the form on our website, or over the phone at (516) 399-2364.

john tucker

Managing Attorney John. J. Tucker, Esq.

John has personally handled thousands of clients who were victims of another’s negligence and fights relentlessly for their rights. John enjoys bringing closure to a client’s matter so that the injured party can move forward with their life. His background enables him to evaluate complex liability related claims and bring resolution to claims in a record time frame. [ Attorney Bio ]

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