Regardless of the type of accident or how someone’s death was caused, we represent the families of people who have been killed as a result of any type of an accident. Sometimes deaths occur almost instantly as a result of accidents, and other times people end up being helicoptered to a trauma center and are treated for a period of hours or days before they die.
When an accident results in someone’s death, we have to contend with a state statute that dictates the types of damages that are available in these situations. Compensation can be available for “pecuniary loss.” Pecuniary loss is the loss of income from all available sources through the person who died. For example, if a mother is killed in an accident and she was contributing her salary to the household and supporting her children and spouse, then the loss of her income is a factor to be included. It can also include gifts, the furnishing of a place to live, and other forms of support. The loss of income and the forecast income over the course of the mother’s expected working life can be calculated and becomes an element of damages.
The other element of damages in wrongful death cases is “conscious pain and suffering.” Conscious pain and suffering is the immediate period before someone dies; when they were aware on some level that they were in pain, and it was obvious to others that they were suffering. Suffering can be deduced through sounds like moaning, or visible signs like twitching, or other indications like EEG readings. The longer that period of suffering is, the more value would be placed upon conscious pain and suffering.
What is surprising to many people is that death as a result of an accident in and of itself is not automatically assigned a value. New York State lawmakers saw too much of a potential for a judge or jury to assign a value to a wrongful death based solely upon sympathy. That is why our state legislators created a statute that allows compensation based upon conscious pain and suffering and pecuniary loss as opposed to simply coming up with a value for the loss of someone’s life.
When you have just lost a loved one it is difficult to accept that the value of the wrongful death action is based upon economic factors and how long your loved one lived after the accident. Nevertheless, that’s the law that we have in our state. Wrongful death cases involving those who are in their working prime, were supporting family members financially, were generally healthy, and had a long life expectancy, have the highest potential for recovery. Despite the evaluation process, we understand and empathize with the families of those that we represent, since they are dealing with an accidental death and also trying to determine how they will meet their financial and other expenses.