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The Remedy for Wrongful Death Is Just Plain Wrong

February 5th, 2011

When the negligence of a person or entity causes the death of another, the estate of the deceased may bring a lawsuit for “wrongful death.” In many ways these lawsuits are the same as any other personal injury action. Both suits require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was liable . . . for negligent or intentional acts. Both suits entitle the victim or his or her heirs to recover damages for economic loss and pain and suffering. But what happens when the deceased victim is unemployed and dies instantly at the scene of the accident? The New York wrongful death law does not give the decedent’s loved ones the right to recover money damages. Sounds a bit unfair in the abstract, but put it into context and think how truly unfair it is. So we’ll call our victim “Grandma.”

Grandma lives with her cancer-stricken daughter, disabled son-in-law and their six autistic children. She’s retired and living on social security. But she’s still active and vital. She bakes a perfect pumpkin pie, helps out with the kids homework, pitches in to cook and clean and still has something left on her curve ball. She’s loved by all. One day she walks to Waldbaum’s to buy a quart of milk and some Fig Newtons for the kid’s after-school snack. She carefully looks both ways as the stoplight shines its steady green beam upon her. As she takes measured steps through the crosswalk, she is struck by a speeding drunk driver smoking a crack pipe. Grandma dies instantly.

Should Grandma’s family be compensated? The New York State legislature says “No!” Strictly applying the wrongful death law, Grandma’s family is not entitled to compensation. Because she was retired, her estate suffered no loss of income. And because she died instantly, she didn’t suffer pain. The law provides no remedy.

As he drank the hemlock, Socrates philosophized “the law is hard, but the law is the law.” If you don’t like it, write to your legislators and tell them to change the law. Grandma’s family will thank you.

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  1. Jim
    February 5th, 2011 at 20:33 | #1

    So Santa would not have been liable to Grandma if she died instanly when she got run over by the Reindeer?

  2. February 7th, 2011 at 11:56 | #2

    Not even to Grandma’s estate.

  3. Anna Di Bella
    August 15th, 2011 at 14:38 | #3

    There is no justice in this world. I say that we should create a Grandma Foundation to hound those entities that don’t see the injustice of this legislation. We should, at least, propose a committee to look into this immediately.

    How can I help? Aside from the family, are we sure that Grandma is receiving a proper burial???

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