According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), 796 construction workers died or were fatally injured on the job site in 2013. Long considered one of the nation’s most dangerous industries, construction work was responsible for one of out every five deaths in the workplace.
Losing a family member, a loved one, a spouse or child is without a doubt life’s most difficult challenge. The love, emotional support, and simple pleasures of living with those we have chosen are ripped from us. Sometimes this happens in an instant, in one traumatic accident, and sometimes the loss is felt over a long, painful period of time, as in cases of chronic occupational illness.
Can I Sue After My Loved One’s Death?
In any case, the death of a loved one can leave us both emotionally and financially bereft.
In limited circumstances, New York State allows immediate family members to file wrongful death lawsuits after fatal construction accidents. And while no amount of money can alleviate the trauma of a loved one’s loss, recovering monetary damages may go some way to lay a stable foundation for this inner recovery to take place.
New York State is governed by a workers compensation program, and most of the money offered to survivors of a deceased worker are paid out through insurance claims. In fact, workers comp restricts your ability to sue your loved one’s employer, even if their negligence led to the fatal accident.
Wrongful death lawsuits, on the other hand, may be filed against “third-parties,” architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and property owners – anyone not covered by the workers comp insurance purchased directly by your loved one’s employer.
But unlike many states, New York’s progressive labor laws create several gaps in the protection from lawsuits that employers generally enjoy.
What’s Different About Construction In New York?
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, and account for around 37% of all jobsite fatalities.
New York Labor Laws 240 and 241, commonly called the “Scaffold” or “Ladder” law, switch the burden of responsibility from workers comp and insurance carriers to employers in accidents involving scaffolding, ropes, pulleys, hoists, ladders and other equipment that allows construction employees to work at elevation.
This law is controversial, and while some courts have interpreted it as placing “strict” or “absolute” liability on employers, others have not. If “strict” liability is in place, it is not necessary to prove that an employer was negligent to win a lawsuit. If not, it must be proved that the elevated structure was improperly designed, constructed, or maintained, and that defect led to your loved one’s death. But in either case, lawsuits involving elevation on a construction site are generally viable in New York.
You can learn more about the Ladder Law in our infographic here.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?
In most states, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by survivors who can prove they had a significant relationship with the victim. In court, in formal, legal terms, they act as representatives of the deceased’s estate, and the lawsuit will be governed by a set of statutes known as the New York Estates, Powers and Trust Laws. These laws allow the estate’s representative to claim “pecuniary losses” after the decedent’s loss. “Pecuniary” simply means that the losses you claim must be translated into monetary terms.
But how is a “significant relationship” defined in New York State?
- Spouses: husbands and wives, legally married in New York State court, are always allowed to file claims
- Parents of minors: mothers and fathers can always file claims if their child was a minor, under the age of 18, at the time of their death
- Minors: children under the age of 18 can file a wrongful death lawsuit after the loss of a parent
If no spouse, children or grandchildren are able to file the claim, an adult decedent’s parents may be able to, although this is regularly disputed in court. With an experienced lawyer, you may be able to argue this point, essentially proving that you were financially dependent on your loved one, and are now left at a disadvantage in the wake of their loss.
Statute Of Limitations
Surprisingly, the statute of limitations governing wrongful death claims in New York State is less, not more, lenient than others. You have exactly two years after the date of your loved one’s fatal accident to file suit against the parties you believe responsible.
How Much Is A Wrongful Death Case Worth?
Before conducting a thorough investigation, it’s impossible for us to tell you how much your case may be worth. But because wrongful death suits are covered by statutes that only recognize “pecuniary,” or monetary losses, it’s important to cover the types of damages you may be able to claim.
- Loss of Support – These damages are awarded to family members who were financially dependent on the deceased. Amounts are calculated based on how much monetary support was provided before death. Children may receive these damages until the age of 18, but they can be expanded to include college expenses. Widows and widowers can receive loss of support damages until the deceased’s presumed age of retirement, generally considered 65.
- Loss of Consortium – These damages attempt to compensate survivors, usually just spouses, for the loss of their loving relationship. Obviously, this is more an emotional determination than a monetary one, because it includes abstract concepts like affection and companionship. In most states, the amount of consortium damages awarded is left to the discretion of a judge or jury, although lawyers may employ experts to testify and define appropriate amounts.
- Loss of Services – These damages cover the concrete, daily hardships of losing a loved one. “Services” include housework and other tasks once performed by the decedent that will now become an expense for survivors.
- Loss of Guidance and Nurture – These damages are awarded to minor children.
- Medical Expenses – If the victim was not immediately killed in an accident, survivors can be compensated for any medical expenses incurred before death.
- Funeral and Burial Expenses – The average cost of an American funeral, including embalming, casket, grave site, and interment, is nearly $6,600.
- Survival Damages – Awarded in limited cases, survival damages act as the personal injury lawsuit your loved one would have filed if they had not died. If your loved one was ill for a time, their estate may be awarded compensation for lost wages and pain and suffering.
Construction Accident Wrongful Death Verdicts & Settlements
In the past, Banville Law’s construction accident attorneys have recovered several large verdicts and settlements in wrongful death cases. Before reading, it’s important to note that our past successes in no way guarantee results in your case.
We secured $5 million for the survivors of a contractor who died after falling four stories. Our wrongful death lawyers were able to prove that the worker was never afforded fall protection, and that their employer was thus liable under New York’s Labor Laws 240 and 241.
In another case, we recovered $2.5 million for the family of an electrician who was fatally electrocuted. We proved that an electrical switch gear malfunctioned, causing the accident, and held the negligent property owner accountable.