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Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in New York City: Step-by-Step Guide
Few things in life are as devastating as losing a loved one in death. If his or her death was preventable, it can be all the more traumatic. You may be reeling, mentally and emotionally, as well as facing financial hardship.
If your family member died due to the negligence or wrongful act of someone else, you have the right to bring a legal claim against the responsible party. After the unexpected passing of someone dear to you, you may feel overwhelmed by the idea of taking legal action. However, a wrongful death settlement can ease the financial burdens associated with your family’s loss.
The experienced and compassionate New York wrongful death attorneys at the law firm of Hill & Moin can help you through this difficult time. Like having a lawyer in your family, we can answer your questions and guide you through the entire legal process. This article will explain the factors involved in wrongful death claims in New York City, as well as the necessary steps in filing such claims.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to help surviving family members recover monetary damages for their loss and ensure that the responsible party is held accountable for his or her actions. In New York, a wrongful death claim may be filed by the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person against the individual or entity liable for the death.
To file a justifiable wrongful death claim, you must prove that:
- A person died
- A person or entity was negligent, reckless, or intentionally caused harm
- That party’s negligent or intentional actions were the direct cause of your loved one’s death
- Surviving family members suffered financial damages related to the death
By establishing such facts, the deceased’s personal representative can open a wrongful death claim against the liable parties. Oftentimes, an out-of-court settlement agreement can be reached with those responsible. When this cannot be achieved, compensation may be awarded for the untimely death by trial in court.
Important Steps in Filing a Successful Wrongful Death Claim
The death of a loved one may leave you feeling consumed with grief and anxiety. It can be difficult to focus on anything but your recent loss. However, the action you take early on can significantly impact your ability to recover compensation later.
If you suspect that your loved one died as a result of another person’s intentional or negligent act, you should take certain steps as soon as possible.
Appoint a personal representative of the estate
Under New York law, only the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the surviving family members. While usually a trusted friend or family member, the personal representative is not always a beneficiary of the estate.
At times, the personal representative is named in the victim’s will. In the absence of a will, the court has to appoint a personal representative.
Appointing a personal representative of the deceased’s estate takes time. It is advantageous to begin this process sooner rather than later, as it is a key step in moving forward with your wrongful death claim.
Obtain copies of the death certificate, autopsy reports, and police reports
Proving how and why your relative died is a fundamental part of the wrongful death claim. The deceased person’s death certificate, which states the official cause of death, is a crucial piece of evidence.
If an autopsy was performed, this report can provide convincing evidence of the cause of death. Further, if the police or emergency responders were called to the scene of the incident, their official accident reports can help establish what happened. Gathering such reports will lay a strong foundation for a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
Gather additional supporting evidence
The wrongful death lawsuit process can be complicated. To successfully resolve a wrongful death claim in your favor, a great deal of evidence may be required.
Relevant evidence related to the accident could include:
- The deceased’s medical records
- Medical bills
- Photos or video of the fatal injuries
- Traffic camera or security camera footage from the scene of the accident
- Documentation of the vehicle or property damage
Additionally, proving financial damages is a significant part of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Important documents to gather include:
- Employment records
- Financial records
- Tax returns
- Insurance policies
No piece of evidence is too small or insignificant. Try to gather all the records that you possibly can. Make sure to hold on to all documentation and evidence for the full duration of your wrongful death lawsuit.
Collect eyewitness contact information
Credible eyewitness accounts of what happened can have a meaningful impact on your wrongful death claim. At times, a person did not see the fatal accident take place but came onto the scene in the immediate aftermath of the incident. In such cases, he or she may still be able to provide valuable testimony regarding the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death.
The importance of eyewitness testimony should not be underestimated. If multiple witnesses attest to the same circumstance, this can go a long way in holding the responsible parties accountable for the victim’s death. Be sure to gather the contact information for all available witnesses.
Record your personal account of what happened
It can be emotionally taxing to recall the events that led to your family member’s tragic death. However, your personal account of what took place can have a significant effect on the legal process. As time goes by, your memory of how things unfolded may not be as clear.
It is wise to write down your account of what happened as soon as you reasonably can after your loved one has passed away. Be as thorough as possible; even small details can later prove helpful to your wrongful death case. Having a written record of events to refer to will also make explaining your position to a wrongful death lawyer easier.
Consult a New York wrongful death attorney
Wrongful death cases can be emotional, complicated, and time-sensitive. If you believe that your family member died due to another person’s negligence, there is no need to face this devastating situation alone. An experienced wrongful death attorney is the advocate your grieving family needs.
A knowledgeable lawyer can walk you through every step of the claims process. He or she can also ensure that your wrongful death claim is prepared according to New York state laws and time limits.
Having a well-practiced and understanding New York wrongful death lawyer on your side will give you confidence and peace of mind as you move forward with your claim. When you hire a knowledgeable attorney to handle your wrongful death lawsuit, he or she will do the legal legwork so that you can focus on getting your family through this.
Additional Actions an Attorney Will Take in Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim
Your wrongful death attorney will work with you to gather the evidence proving that someone else’s actions caused the death of your family member. A thorough investigation into the events that led to the decedent’s death can help your attorney establish the certainties of the case. With convincing evidence in hand, he or she will then be able to move forward with various legal proceedings.
Initiating wrongful death settlement negotiations
Most wrongful death claims are settled with the at-fault party or their insurance company before a lawsuit is filed. Families often prefer to enter settlement negotiations before taking a wrongful death case to trial.
To begin negotiations, your wrongful death attorney will write a demand letter to the defendant and his or her insurance company. The letter may detail the circumstances of the death, name the party believed to have caused it, and explain how the evidence points to the case qualifying as wrongful death.
The demand will request compensation for all relevant losses allowed under New York state law, such as:
- Loss of anticipated financial support: The surviving spouse and other family members who relied on the financial support of the deceased may be able to recover the lost income he or she provided.
- Loss of the value of household services: You may now need to hire someone to take care of the household tasks that your family member has performed. You can request financial compensation for these costs.
- Expenses associated with wrongful death: Sadly, a death generally results in a significant amount of expense. You may be eligible to recover compensation for medical expenses, medical bills, funeral costs, burial expenses, and other wrongful death damages.
No two wrongful death cases are the same. The general goal in pursuing a wrongful death claim, though, is to reach a settlement that adequately provides for your family’s immediate and long-term financial needs.
Your lawyer can help you evaluate all settlement offers and make any counteroffers as desired. If a fair settlement agreement cannot be reached, you can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit
If the defendant or insurer refuses to come to an amicable settlement agreement, your lawyer will file a complaint in civil court for wrongful death. The complaint will outline the details of the wrongful death suit.
The complaint will include the date and time of death, what caused it, and the amount of compensation sought. It will also review the established evidence and laws that apply to the case.
Conducting the litigation and discovery phase
The pre-trial phase of a wrongful death lawsuit includes the fact-finding or discovery period. This allows time for each side to collect and exchange information about the case.
To build a strong wrongful death case, your lawyer may take such steps as:
- Requesting important documents: It is beneficial to see a copy of the defendant’s insurance policy and other financial documents. Such records will show how much potential compensation is available in the case.
- Questioning the defendant in writing: Questions may be submitted to be answered in writing under oath.
- Conducting a deposition: This is an in-person interview, given under oath, recorded, and possibly used as evidence in court.
- Interviewing expert witnesses: Under certain circumstances, the testimony of an expert witness can be invaluable in successfully resolving a wrongful death lawsuit. Expert witnesses may include medical professionals or accident reconstruction specialists.
The purpose of the discovery phase is to firmly establish the facts of the wrongful death case, ensuring that there are no surprises at trial.
Taking your wrongful death case to trial
If all settlement negotiations fail, the wrongful death case will proceed to trial. In court, each side has the opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses, and provide arguments. Additionally, each party may cross-examine the other side’s witnesses.
After the trial, the jury will deliberate and give their verdict. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you may be able to appeal the decision to a higher court. Your wrongful death lawyers will discuss with you whether or not appealing the verdict would be advisable.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney for Support
We understand that this can be an incredibly painful time for you and your family. Pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit may be the last thing you think you can endure, but you can get the support you need to feel confident in seeking justice for your loved one’s loss.
The New York wrongful death attorneys at Hill & Moin can navigate you through this difficult chapter of your life. Our empathetic legal team is dedicated to defending the rights of New York accident and injury victims and their families. If we take your case, we will do all in our power to help your family recover emotionally and financially from your loss.
Contact a New York wrongful death lawyer today to learn about your Personal Injury Recovery SolutionsⓇ. We serve multiple areas in New York City, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Call Hill & Moin at (212) 668-6000 or fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation. You can find out what our experienced attorneys can do for you.
Don’t wonder about your rights!