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Staten Island Wrongful Death Lawyer

After losing a family member, the last thing you want to think about is a legal case. However, grieving family members have many important legal rights which deserve to be vindicated — if they act quickly. 

At The O’Connor Law Firm, we fully support our clients in their grief as they attempt to process what has happened. But we also strive to protect their right to compensation when a person or entity causes the death either intentionally or unintentionally. Contact our firm today to learn more about how we can help.

What is Wrongful Death?

Not all deaths are “wrongful” under New York law. Instead, death is wrongful when it is caused by the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person. Wrongful death cases often stem from car accidents, truck accidents, premises liability claims, and workplace accidents. 

A key question is whether the defendant’s conduct fell below the level of reasonable care we come to expect from other members of society. An intoxicated or distracted driver, for example, has violated this standard and can be held accountable for wrongful death. The same is true of a property owner who doesn’t warn or fix a hazard that poses a serious risk of injury.

Compensation in a Wrongful Death Case

The goal of a wrongful death claim is to compensate surviving family members for their losses and can include money damages for:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral costs
  • Lost inheritance
  • Lost financial support
  • Loss of parental guidance
  • Loss of companionship

Some of these losses are easier to calculate than others. For example, if your spouse died at 45 while making $70,000 a year, you could reasonably expect him or her to make a similar amount until retirement. But other losses — like the loss of your spouse’s companionship — are more subjective.

If your case goes to trial, a jury typically decides how much compensation to offer and how to allocate it between surviving family members. However, if you reach an out-of-court settlement, a Surrogate’s Court Judge will need to approve the amount and allocation in the settlement agreement. One advantage of meeting with an attorney is to estimate the amount of your claim, which can differ considerably depending on the circumstances.

Compensation for Survivors’ Grief

Surviving family members suffer intense anguish after a loved one’s death. Unfortunately, New York doesn’t allow them to seek compensation for their own pain and suffering. This definitely makes New York an outlier with respect to other states. 

However, the legislature in Albany has attempted several times over the last few years to amend the wrongful death statute to allow grieving family members to recover from the emotional anguish of losing a loved one.  The most recent attempt, Senate Bill S74A, is still being considered.  Unfortunately, until it is approved by the Governor and passed into law, New York will continue to limit compensation for wrongful death to pecuniary loss (economic damages).

Nevertheless, you might receive damages for pain and suffering if you were in the zone of danger when your loved one was killed. Because you reasonably feared bodily injury at the time that you witnessed your loved one’s death, you might receive compensation for emotional damages.

Survivorship Claims

In addition to wrongful death, the decedent’s estate might also have a survivorship claim, which is somewhat similar. This claim seeks compensation for losses your loved one suffered before death. Damages are available for lost earnings and medical expenses, as well as any pain and suffering your loved one endured in their final hours and days.

Any damages awarded get distributed according to the will or if there is no will, New York’s inheritance laws. If you were named as a beneficiary under the will, you may get a share of the damages awarded in a survivorship claim.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Staten Island

A key question is who files the wrongful death claim. Had your loved one lived, they would file a claim because they were injured. Because they have died, the estate’s personal representative files the suit. This person should be identified in the will. The personal representative also files a survivorship action.

One reason to hire an experienced Staten Island wrongful death attorney is that he can handle the paperwork for you. A lawyer will understand where and when to file, paying close attention to the state’s statute of limitations.

Generally, you must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of death otherwise it is barred. However, there are exceptions to this two-year requirement. If the defendant is a public entity, such as the City of New York, you have much less time to file a claim directly with the department. You also must use a specific claim form when suing a municipality or government agency. Any deviation from the required rules can result in forfeiting your right to sue the government entity for the wrongful death.

A State Island wrongful death attorney can carefully review the facts to determine which deadline applies specifically to you. For this reason, please contact our firm as soon as possible.

Wrongful Death and Criminal Cases

Some people are confused about how wrongful death cases interact with criminal cases. This is a complicated issue, but we can identify some important differences.

Because wrongful death claims are civil cases, different rules apply. For one, the defendant can only be ordered to pay money damages to family members or the estate. He or she cannot be sent to jail if found liable for wrongful death.

The standard of proof is also lower. A prosecutor can only secure a criminal conviction by presenting proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil cases (like wrongful death) are different. The plaintiff must show the defendant caused or contributed to your loved one’s death by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a “more likely than not” standard.

In most situations, a criminal act will also qualify as wrongful death. Think of a drunk driver who strikes and kills someone, or a jealous ex-boyfriend who commits murder. These are criminal acts, and family members can also sue the defendant for wrongful death.

But some wrongful deaths don’t qualify as criminal because the defendant’s conduct was not sufficiently culpable. A harried motorist who backs up out of a driveway without checking her mirror could run over a child. But the prosecutor might not find her conduct criminal. Nevertheless, the child’s parents could bring a wrongful death case based on the driver’s negligent conduct.

Evidence in a Wrongful Death Case

Helpful evidence will depend on the incident which led to your loved one’s passing. Generally, we want as much evidence as possible to reconstruct what happened. We can then show that the defendant’s actions fell below an acceptable level of care and that this conduct contributed to the death.

In many cases, we will use:

  • Police reports that summarize the incident, including its location, date, and time
  • Witness testimony, which can connect the defendant to the death
  • Surveillance or dashcam video, which might have captured the incident and shows the defendant’s actions leading up to the death
  • Medical records or medical testimony to establish date and cause of death

We can also interview or question the defendant. The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination does not always apply in the civil context, especially where the prosecutor declines to bring criminal charges or the defendant is previously acquitted of a criminal offense.

Our Staten Island Wrongful Death Attorney Can Assist with Your Claim

The O’Connor Law Firm has been helping Staten Island families overwhelmed by the sudden loss of a loved one since 2006.  We will take on the burden of the legal process so you can focus on your family.  We provide compassionate legal representation when you need it most.  These claims are not easy to bring, and the earlier you contact legal counsel the better. Call our law firm today at 718-948-3500 and let us show you how we can help you.

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Take the First Step, I Look Forward to Helping You.