The wrongful death legislation in New York State was first passed in 1847, but it is still inadequate to meet victims’ requirements in cases of non-economic loss today. The wrongful death law in New York strictly limits damages to only the demonstrable monetary loss to the surviving family, which, in turn, has the potential to reduce compensation. Given that it is challenging to estimate a child’s economic value, these limitations have led to particularly insensitive decisions regarding child fatalities.
As society and people’s needs evolve, so do the laws that govern them. However, certain laws that were made centuries ago are still in effect. The Buffalo News cites New York state’s wrongful death law as an excellent example. In 1847 it was first enacted into law. Many believe it to be severely out of date with the requirements of contemporary society and that it places too many restrictions on people who desire to bring a wrongful death claim.
Types of Recovery for Wrongful Death Damages
Generally speaking, there are four types of recovery under wrongful death damages laws:
Absolute Pecuniary Loss
The laws of several states, including New York, continue to rigidly limit damages to pecuniary loss, which is defined as the monetary value of the financial support and services that the deceased would have offered to the remaining family members. The care, instruction, training, and supervision that a kid would have gotten had one of his or her parents not been slain are included in the services, as well as the housekeeping tasks that the deceased completed at home for the benefit of the family.
Loss of the Decedent’s Society In Addition To Pecuniary Loss
Damages for the loss of the decedent’s society are allowed in most states, including California. This includes the “wide spectrum of mutual benefits each family member derives from the others’ continued presence,” such as love, affection, protection, care, companionship, comfort, and security.
Pecuniary Loss and Emotional Trauma to Survivors
Damages for the decedent’s loss of support, services, and society are allowed in most jurisdictions, but in a minority of states, damages are also allowed for the decedent’s survivors’ suffering and sadness. These additional damages aim to make up for the painful experience of losing a loved one.
The Value of Life
In a small number of states, including Connecticut, the estate of the deceased is entitled to compensation for the deceased’s lifetime loss of future income and loss of pleasure of life. If passengers from New York, California, Florida, and Connecticut perish in the same plane crash, the New York survivors’ recovery will be strictly limited to their economic loss of financial support and services; the California survivors’ recovery will also include damages for loss of companionship; the Florida survivors’ recovery will also include additional damages for survivor’s grief, and the Connecticut survivors’ recovery will include decedent’s estate (plus loss of companionship for a spouse).
Several other choices of law regulations (depending on where the lawsuit is filed) and damage laws can combine to produce an absurdly wide range of results. All indications point to the New York family’s recovery being far lower than that of families in other jurisdictions.
It is clear that New York’s wrongful death legislation is ineffective for residents of the city and needs to be updated to consider factors other than just financial loss to reflect the decedent’s true value to the family.
The state’s wrongful death statutes have been attempted to be updated by legislators. Up till now, nothing has occurred. Nothing has changed from the laws that were in place before the Civil War. Society since then has undergone significant development. Technology that was once unimaginable exists now. Our modern automobiles are a far cry from those of the 1840s. The workplace now carries greater risks. When this statute was first enacted, the vast majority of wrongful death cases that are currently brought before the courts would not have occurred.
An amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act enacted by Congress would be a straightforward model for change (DOHSA). The DOHSA was first passed in 1920 to offer a standardized federal death action for mishaps on the high seas outside of state territorial waters. A pecuniary loss cap similar to New York’s law was included in the measure.
Following a string of significant airline catastrophes at sea and a Supreme Court decision that put the DOHSA cap on the recovery of families in the Korean Airlines flight 007 case, Congress came under increasing pressure in the 1990s to amend the DOHSA.
Unfortunately, the DOHSA restriction was not totally lifted by Congress, and the damage threshold for a death on the high seas aboard a ship or small aircraft still relies on monetary loss. The same accident, however, may give rise to non-financial damages under general maritime law if it takes place in territorial waters.
Only lost wages resulting from the loss of your loved one are currently eligible for compensation under the law. You are prohibited from suing for any other damages. Accordingly, if your loved one was a child, for instance, you really don’t have a case because there are no lost wages to make up for. Your chances of receiving compensation for funeral and hospital expenses are at their lowest. The families of railroad workers were originally the target audience for this antiquated statute.
Now, it extends to more people than just employees. If someone else’s negligence contributed to the death of your loved one, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. The protections provided by this law are no longer relevant in modern wrongful death lawsuits.
These kinds of unfair and arbitrary outcomes will continue up until the last traces of the archaic English common law standards are removed from the statutory books. The time has long since come for New York to enact death damage laws that are both reasonable and sensitive to the actual burden of losing a family member.
If you have lost a loved one, parent, spouse, child, or close relative to another person’s wrongful actions, you may pursue compensation. Hire an experienced NYC wrongful death attorney to help file your claims and recover the financial justice you deserve.