Last week I received a call from a current client regarding the unexpected death of his brother who was involved in a terrible car accident. My client’s brother was 41 years old, married, and had 3 children. The entire family seemed to be in a state of shock and my client was calling to ask if there was anything I might be able to do to help.
It’s important to understand that there are limits to what can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit when a close family member has died in an accident. The specifics of the accident are not important to the point I am making here – this is not a question of who is at fault, or how the accident happened. It is a matter of properly understanding what it means to bring a lawsuit for ‘wrongful death’ and what types of damages can be recovered.
Simply stated, money damages in a wrongful death lawsuit under New York law are limited to pecuniary loss with respect to the injuries suffered by the victim; there is no remedy for the sadness and despair that a family member feels when someone close to them dies.
I think the reason people sometimes get confused is because they hear that a lawsuit allows a plaintiff to recover damages for pain and suffering. Pain and suffered can be included as damages in a personal injury lawsuit but this only covers or refers to the pain and suffering directly experienced by the accident victim. In the case of an accident, pain and suffering would only be included in a damage award if the victim had any awareness of the injury prior to death. [Read more…]