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What damages may be sought in a wrongful death action?

New York was the first state to award damages, through a wrongful death action, to family members who lost a loved one because of another person’s negligence or recklessness. Family members may be entitled to monetary damages, referred to as pecuniary damages, to continue the financial and other support that the deceased provided to the family support. These damages may also include possible inheritance and medical and funeral expenses related to the death.

The family’s reasonable expectancy of future assistance or support from the decedent is the major component of a New York wrongful death action. These pecuniary injuries can be calculated from such relevant factors as the decedent’s earning potential determined from present and potential earnings, potential for advancement and the probability of providing future support to heirs. A court may also consider the decedent’s age, character and physical condition and the other family members’ circumstances.

However, pecuniary damages may apply to a deceased family member who was not a wage earner. Children can recover damages from the loss of a parent’s guidance, for example.

In one case, the New York Court of Appeals found that a decedent’s adult grandchildren relied upon her for shelter during a marital crisis, that she helped them deal with their mother’s medical condition and provided daily meals to her grandchildren. The Court, accordingly, ruled that these grandchildren could seek pecuniary damages against the New York City Housing Authority for the murder of their grandmother in her apartment although the grandchildren were financially independent when their grandmother was killed. The Court ruled that the decedent’s service had to be replaced in this premises liability case.

Filing a wrongful death action may require legal assistance to determine liability and the proper award of damages. Legal advice can help assure that a family’s right to compensation may be preserved after a relative suffers a fatal accident.

Source: LEAGLE, “Gonzalez v. New York City Housing Authority, 77 N.Y.2d 663 (1991),” March 30, 2015