What Evidence Do You Need in a New York Wrongful Death Claim?

When your loved one dies following a catastrophic incident like a car accident, or a slip and fall, surviving family members may be entitled to collect compensation for their losses. A person or entity can be held liable for a fatality when negligence, recklessness, or malicious intent is at least a partial cause of death.

It can feel overwhelming to take legal action while grieving. However, bringing forth a wrongful death claim can provide you with the financial means to cover unexpected expenses and pursue justice on behalf of the decedent.

Contacting a New York City wrongful death lawyer from Douglas and London will help you take care of all the legal matters so you have time to grieve. Successful wrongful death lawyers work on a contingency basis and only charge a legal fee after recovering compensation for your family.

Evidence in a Wrongful Death Claim

The clear and compelling evidence a plaintiff must submit will vary from case to case. Generally speaking, every wrongful death lawsuit contains well-maintained documentation and evidence that proves what happened, why it happened, who was liable– and what financial losses were suffered.

In many ways, a wrongful death claim is much like a traditional personal injury claim– where a duty of care is owed, breached, and causes loss. Though in a wrongful death case, the ultimate loss is suffered– the loss of life. New York State courts require you to prove four basic elements in a wrongful death claim and submit substantiating evidence.

You’ll need evidence to prove your family member has died:

  • A certified copy of the death certificate issued by the New York State Department of Health
  • A signed statement from the funeral director, attending physician, or institution where the death occurred
  • A certified copy of an official police, autopsy, scene investigator, or state authority’s report
  • An official report by the US Consul or authorized State Department employee for overseas deaths

If none of these formal reports can be obtained, the plaintiff must furnish evidence of death by submitting sworn statements of at least two persons who have personal knowledge of the death. These people must swear to the date, time, place, and cause of death with precision.

You’ll need evidence to show the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, which was breached:

  • Factual statements about what the decedent was doing at the time of the incident
  • A lease, contract, hospital record, or other documents showing the relationship between the two parties
  • Expert testimony describing what a “reasonable” person would have done in the defendant’s situation

Sometimes “duty of care” is automatically implied. For instance, if you are shopping in a store, it’s assumed the manager or owner will maintain the property from known hazards like broken railings, icy sidewalks, crumbling ceilings, spills on the floor, ripped up carpeting, or debris. Or, if you are under the care of a treating physician, it is assumed you will receive standard medical care in the diagnosis and treatment of your ailment. If your child is attending school, you assume they will be protected from harm while under the educator’s supervision.

You’ll need evidence proving the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or wrongful breach of duty led to the death:

  • Medical records like doctor’s notes, test results, prescription information, and hospital reports
  • Physical evidence like clothing, surgical objects left in the body, or a smashed up vehicle
  • Photographs, videos, black box data logs, or surveillance footage of injuries, accidents, or damage
  • Witness statements of anyone who saw or has first-hand knowledge of the accident
  • Subpoenaed internal documents from a liable entity showing misconduct or negligence beyond reason

One of the more challenging parts of the claim to prove is that the death wouldn’t have otherwise occurred had it not been for the defendant’s actions or inactions. For this reason, it’s crucial to choose a personal injury lawyer with particular experience in wrongful death and one who has the resources to secure expert witness testimony.

You’ll need evidence to show family members have suffered loss as a result of the death:

  • Pay stubs and tax returns that can help calculate the value of lost wages, income, and inheritance
  • Copies of bills for medical treatments, funeral expenses, or burial plots
  • Personal testimony from relatives regarding how the loss affected them personally
  • Expert testimony from a forensic economist who can help estimate future losses

Unfortunately, you cannot collect compensation for your grief, anxiety, depression, or pain and suffering. You can, however, recover for the pain and suffering of the decedent with a survival cause of action– if they lingered before succumbing to their injuries.

Losses for the family may include a general “loss of companionship” for the spouse and “loss of guidance” for the children, along with reasonable expenses for the funeral, burial, the loss of household services, and the loss of household income. 

Other Factors in Collecting Damages in a NY Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Your ability to collect damages will not only depend upon proving these four factors but also:

Your relationship to the decedent:

Only a personal representative of the decedent can sue for wrongful death in New York. There is also an established order of succession for collecting damages from a lawsuit recovery. The spouse, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings of the deceased may be entitled to compensation, but it depends on the circumstances.

The ability of the defendant to pay:

As the saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone.” A favorable settlement or jury award is not worth the time and effort if there isn’t a way to collect the money. Strong legal counsel will ensure the defendant has the assets, income, insurance, or other financial means to pay the settlement or jury award. Often, lawyers will sue an entity– not just an individual, as entities tend to be well-insured.

New York State statute of limitations:

Also, you will need to be within the state’s deadline for pursuing a civil action. New York’s statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is generally two years from the date of death. A few exceptions may apply, particularly if the cause of death was not immediately known or if the surviving family member is a child under 18 years of age. Before counting yourself out, it’s worth speaking with a seasoned attorney.

Call for a Free Consultation with our team of Wrongful Death Lawyers

Douglas and London understand what damages you are entitled to and have the resources necessary to produce enough evidence to win maximum compensation for your claim. Contact our experienced New York City personal injury lawyers for a free case review.