What Actually Is A Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is any case where a person died because of the wrongful actions, including negligence or a violation of New York law caused by the actions of another person. Negligence is the failure of a person to be careful, or conversely, someone who is careless and their actions cause the death of another. A wrongful death case under New York law is a case whereby someone dies because of the wrongful act of another. Common examples of negligence include circumstances where a bicycle delivery worker in Manhattan is hit by a car or a pedestrian who is crossing the street and is hit by a car or truck. Other examples include construction workers in New York City falling from scaffolds or in Westchester, a construction worker falling from a roof or a roof caving in, despite New York’s clear laws requiring fall protection. When any of these types of accidents result in a fatality, there is a wrongful death claim. Other common examples of cases which our wrongful death attorneys see is truck accidents where one car is hit by a truck, those often result in fatalities because of the massive weight of the trucks and the amount of force involved. In New York our wrongful death attorneys have seen a number of wrongful death instances where drivers are intoxicated and travel in the wrong direction on New York’s parkways. It could be situations involving a construction accident where the person falls, and did not have proper lifelines, or they did not have proper safety equipment, and that is why they died.
It can also be a medical malpractice issue, where a doctor has treated an injury, or illness, and failed to properly diagnose, or treat the illness. In other words, if a patient goes to the hospital and the hospital completely misses an obvious diagnosis for a condition that is treatable and because they don’t render the proper care, the person dies, that can also be a wrongful death case.
Under federal law, it also could be what is known as death in the High Seas act. This is when people work in water, or over water conditions. They might have fallen over board, the boat may sink, or the boat hit something and they perished.
Federal law also provides remedies, under the civil rights laws, for people who die at the hands of the police. Common examples include wrongful police shootings or other excessive force that causes injuries that are so severe they lead to death.
A wrongful death case can be brought in almost any circumstance where someone had a responsibility to do something, and they failed to do so, which causes a person’s death. We have even seen wrongful death cases against apartment buildings, or other places where proper security was not provided. This allowed a homicide to occur. There have been many stories of wrongful death cases involving bars that should have metal detectors, or have metal detectors that do not work properly. We have handled a few of those kinds of cases as well.
It can be any kind of case where somebody has died unjustifiably as a wrongful act of another person, or because the carelessness, or something needed falls within the general ambit of a wrongful death.
Who Can Actually Bring A Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim has to be brought in the name of the estate, which is an entity created by the New York Surrogates Court to administer the affairs of a deceased. In New York, there is a process involved where when a person dies, their lawful distributes, which would be usually either the spouse, children, or parents, the next-of-kin would have to go to Surrogate court. They would establish Letters Testamentary, or Letters of Administration. That would allow them to then bring a lawsuit for the estate of the person, and certainly claims can be brought on behalf of the distribute, which is anyone who is financially supported by the person who died, or the decedents. In certain cases, there is nobody who can bring a claim that is recognized by statute.
For example, in a case of undocumented people, undocumented aliens, or illegal immigrants that pass away, there is the office of the public administrator that could be appointed for people who just do not have anyone who can act as a state representative for them. We had the public administrator appointed on a number of cases where we had tourists who were visiting New York, and died in bus accidents. We can bring an application to the court to have the public administrator named as the state executive who can then bring a cause of action for wrongful deaths against any responsible persons or parties in cases of illegal immigrants.
Are Punitive Damages Recoverable In wrongful Death Cases?
Under New York Law, punitive damages are only recoverable in certain wrongful death actions whereby there has been very extreme intentional or reckless conduct that creates a public risk of harm that is the general standard. Therefore, they are not recoverable in the ordinary negligence case, but in cases where there is really a mal-intent, or someone did something intentionally wrong, or intentionally to harm another human being. In those kinds of cases, you cannot get punitive damages. The typical case will be if someone dies because of excessive force by a police officer, as in a shooting case. Those kinds of cases tend to warrant punitive damages.
In general, where there is recklessness, or a disregard of public safety, those types of damages tend to receive punitive damage awards. Our New York City wrongful death lawyers have sought punitive damages in cases of driving where a motorist, bus driver, or a truck driver is under the influence of drugs. Their actions are reckless. They have disregarded clear warning signs of what could happen. The well-known case where punitive damages were awarded was the Ford Pinto case, where they subjected people to a known hazard of cars bursting into flames from the back end. Not every negligence case can equate to, or justify a punitive damage award, but you have to show bad intentional or reckless conduct to justify the punitive damage award.
Get Information on Wrongful Death Claims in NY or call the Law Offices of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC for a FREE Initial Consultation at (212) 858-0503 and get the legal answers you are seeking. We have offices in midtown. Manhattan and New York.