Wrongful Death Lawsuits in New York

An look at eligibility for bringing a New York wrongful death claim, potential damages, and more.

Updated by , MSLIS · Long Island University

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.

How Is "Wrongful Death" Defined in New York?

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).)

Who Is Eligible to File a New York Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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.

What Damages Are Possible in a New York Wrongful Death Case?

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:

  • funeral and burial expenses
  • reasonable health care expenses related to the deceased person's final injury or illness
  • any financial support the deceased would have contributed to the family
  • the value of support and services the deceased would have provided to the family
  • the value of parental nurturing, care, and guidance to surviving children
  • survivors' lost inheritance
  • conscious pain and suffering endured by the deceased due to the final injury or illness, and
  • interest on the damages award, calculated from the date of death.

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.)

How Long Do I Have to File a New York Wrongful Death Claim?

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:

  • If the death was the result of medical malpractice, the statute of limitations is two and a half years from the date of the person's death. (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214-a (2021.)
  • If the person responsible for the death has a criminal case pending against him or her as a result of the event that caused the death, the statute of limitations is one year from the date the criminal case ends. (N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 5-4.1 (2021).)

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.

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