At the time of this writing, New York’s wrongful death law, contained in the Estates, Powers & Trusts Law at Section 5-4.3, provides (with emphasis added) that:
The damages awarded to the plaintiff may be such sum as the jury or, where issues of fact are tried without a jury, the court or referee deems to be fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent’s death to the persons for whose benefit the action is brought.
In other words, New York’s wrongful death law only recognizes compensation for pecuniary, or money-related, losses that a family endures because of the loss of a loved one. New York does not currently recognize emotional injuries resulting from loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship – very real phenomena for grief-stricken families who just want their loved one around.
New York is something of an outlier. Lawmakers have noted, in justifying passage of the “Grieving Families Act,” that that at least 41 other states compensate family members for emotional losses experienced after a wrongful death.
If signed into law by the Governor, the Act would dramatically change New York’s archaic wrongful death law and allow surviving close family members to be made more “whole” after the loss of a loved one. It would not, however, remove pecuniary injuries as a compensable damage. In fact, the amended law specifically contemplates continued compensation for economic injuries, making clear that “recoverable damages” include:
. . . pecuniary injuries, including loss of services, support, assistance, and loss or diminishment of inheritance, resulting from the decedent’s death. . .
New York’s current wrongful death law has been on the books for over 170 years and courts have developed methods for computing the amount of pecuniary damages. An experienced attorney can review the circumstances and provide guidance on this sometimes-complex process.
As observed by one court: “The amount of pecuniary loss in a wrongful death action is often ‘uncertain and problematical’ and ‘may properly include probable, or even possible, benefits which might inure to the parents from their child’s entire life, taking into consideration the possibility of failure or misfortune.”
If you are looking for an experienced wrongful death lawyer after a motor vehicle accident in New York State, contact the lawyers at William Mattar, P.C. While the current law does not allow compensation for emotional loss arising from grief, we hope that changes with enactment of the Grieving Families Act. For more information contact us online of via phone at (844) 444-4444.