When a person dies as a result of another party's accidental or intentional act, the deceased person's estate could be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this article, we'll examine the laws that apply to wrongful death claims in New York, including how the state defines a "wrongful death," who may file a wrongful death lawsuit, the damages available if a wrongful death case succeeds, and the time limits for getting the case started.
New York law defines a "wrongful death" as one caused by "a wrongful act, neglect or default," of a kind that the deceased person could have pursued with a personal injury lawsuit had he or she lived. (N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 5-4.1 (2021).) Unlike in other types of personal injury lawsuits, in a wrongful death case the injured person is no longer able to bring the claim to court; instead, another party must bring it on the deceased person's behalf.
As with other kinds of personal injury cases, many different types of events can qualify as a "wrongful act, neglect or default," including:
Note: In Endresz v. Friedberg, the New York Court of Appeals held that New York law does not recognize wrongful death claims when a fetus dies before birth, even if the death was caused by the wrongful act of another party. (24 N.Y.2d 478 (1969).)
New York law requires that the personal representative (sometimes called the "executor") of the deceased person's estate file the wrongful death lawsuit. Unlike many other states, New York does not allow a family member to bring a wrongful death claim to court unless that family member is also the personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
Learn more about who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In a successful wrongful death case, "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—are awarded to the deceased person's survivors or estate to compensate them for the death. The amount and types of damages awarded will depend on the circumstances of each particular case, but damages have been awarded in New York wrongful death cases for such losses as:
Note that New York does not allow surviving family members to recover their own damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of companionship. (Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.)
Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within a certain period of time, set by a law called a "statute of limitations." The statute of limitations that applies to most wrongful death claims in New York sets a filing deadline of two years from the date of the person's death. (N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 5-4.1 (2021).)
There are some exceptions to the general two-year statute of limitations, however, including the following situations:
Wrongful death cases can be complicated—and the law can change at any time. If you're thinking of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in New York, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law might apply to your situation.