NY Wrongful Death Statute


New York’s Wrongful Death Statute Needs Changing

Like other states, New York has a wrongful death statute. It allows survivors of a person killed because of another’s negligence to take legal action. In fact, New York was the first state to enact a wrongful death law – in 1847. According to some legal experts, the law has not changed much since then and reflects 19th-century values.

In particular, New York’s wrongful death law does not allow compassion for survivors’ grief and loss. Rather, it focuses solely on financial losses resulting from the death. In particular, it replaces the financial assistance or support that the deceased would have provided. It allows for the recovery of funeral and medical expenses and the value of any inheritance lost because of the preventable death.

It also makes it possible for families to hire housekeepers, cooks, baby-sitters and others to replace household services provided by the deceased. If the deceased was a parent, it provides financial resources to replace the counsel and support he or she would have provided a child.

Who is eligible to receive a wrongful death verdict in New York? The law follows New York state intestate law and gives standing to spouses, children and, when there are no children, the deceased’s parents. It also may provide for a portion of the verdict to be set aside for more distant relations, depending on the situation.

Despite efforts in Albany to change the law, it remains much as it has for more than a century. One reason is that insurance companies, hospitals and municipalities have lobbied hard to keep things the way they are. According to opponents of change, permitting compensation for grief would increase the amount of money that they would be forced to pay for needlessly causing someone’s death.

Advocates for change in the wrongful death statute have observed that wrongdoers pay less for causing a person’s death than for seriously injuring someone. A child who is horribly maimed in a car accident can receive considerably more compensation than the family of a child who dies as a result of a similar accident. This hardly seems fair to grieving parents.

New York has some way to go before it catches up with the nearly 30 states that permit verdicts for emotional distress, grief or loss of consortium. Whatever it’s called, the loss is very real to family members who have suffered it. They deserve legal consideration.

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