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Recoverable damages in wrongful death lawsuits in New York

To lose a loved one unexpectedly in New York City is a tragedy, no matter the circumstances. However, the grief associated with such a loss may be compounded even further if it is believed that the actions of another (whether they be intentional or not) contributed to the event. Those impacted may feel justified in initiating a wrongful death action against the person or parties they believe to be responsible. The question then becomes how much may they reasonably expect to recover.

According to Section 5-4.3 of the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law of the state of New York, one can expect to recover “fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent's death.” Pecuniary injuries are all the losses that are financially calculable. In general, the court determines these to include:

  •          Medical and funeral expenses
  •          The loss of financial support
  •          The loss of a potential inheritance

Depending upon the net worth of the decedent, or the amount of support he or she provided to his or her family, the compensation for such injuries may be quite high. Yet people often hear examples of wrongful death lawsuits resulting in multi-million dollar settlements and expect every such action to produce such an outcome. However, settlement amounts may differ depending on the laws of the states such cases initiate from.

Many states allow plaintiffs in wrongful death cases to recover damages for loss of consortium, or the deprivation of a person’s companionship and affection. New York, however, does not. Indeed, in the state’s Civil Pattern Jury Instructions regarding wrongful death cases, it specifically says that juries may only consider economic damages, and not make an award for “for sorrow, mental anguish, injury to feelings, or for loss of companionship.”

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