Why Bring a Wrongful Death Case?

When a loved one dies through negligence, those left behind have a difficult choice to make.

Assuming there was no intent to cause death, or intoxication was not an issue, criminal charges are usually not available. Therefore, in most cases, the only choices left to the family will be either (a) do nothing, or (b) investigate the potential for a civil lawsuit.

If the facts suggest negligence, “do nothing” is usually not an option. So, many families decide that a civil lawsuit in “wrongful death” is their only real option to achieve some form of accountability. [1]

That said, we sometimes hear jurors (and some family members) ask why if a civil lawsuit will not bring the person back, what’s the point in bringing one at all? The question is an understandable and serious one. The law is an imperfect tool. It’s true that a case can never bring a person back. So what can a wrongful death case accomplish?

In our experience, the right case can achieve some good. First, it establishes some accountability through the legal process. The negligent parties (or institutions) will be named as “Defendants.” Their actions, or medical care in a malpractice case, will now be subject to scrutiny in the legal process. They will be questioned (“deposed”) under oath by attorneys representing the family: probing why they acted as they did. Ultimately, if the case proceeds to trial, their conduct will be judged by a jury.

Bringing the right cases also creates financial incentives to encourage safety. The right cases create penalties for negligence, which is sometimes the only way to get the attention of institutional defendants.

We have handled many wrongful death cases. In one case we’re proud to have handled, we obtained written agreement by a large pharmacy chain to enhance training for their pharmacists, to prevent the type of mis-filled prescription that occurred in our case.

In many cases, proper financial compensation is an important goal for its own sake. For example, a husband losing his wife may be placed in dire straits financially, as well as suffering the emotional loss of his spouse. In this and many situations, the financial recovery from a wrongful death case may be needed to restore some security to those left behind.

It is true that a legal case cannot bring back a human life. However, we believe that the right cases do help provide accountability, provide incentives for future safety, and can sometimes lessen the financial harm to those left behind in a tragic situation.

If you believe there was negligence or malpractice involved in the death of a loved one, we are here to help you to investigate it further. If we find basis for a wrongful death suit, we will tell you. Then, armed with knowledge, you can make an informed decision about your legal options.

[1] The legal remedy of a “wrongful death” comes from statute (NY Estates Powers and Trust Law §5-4.1). The statute allows compensation for the “pecuniary loss” (monetary value of losses) suffered by beneficiaries of the Decedent’s Estate.

In addition, the “pain and suffering” of the individual victim, experienced before they passed away, may be included in the damages award to the Estate.