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“Interesting” Decision on Wrongful Death

January 13, 2012

On January 10, 2012, the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, the State’s highest Court, ruled in favor of families who have lost loved ones because of the negligence of others. In Toledo v. Christo, the Court ruled that a wrongful death plaintiff may collect interest on a damage award from the date of a decedent’s death, rather than the date a court ruled on liability. Specifically, the Court held “the proper method for calculating preverdict interest in a wrongful death action is to discount the verdict to the date of liability, i.e., the date of death, and award interest on that amount from the date of death to the date of judgment.”

In New York State, a personal representative of a decedent’s estate may sue a party causing the death of a loved one, claiming compensation for lost wages, lost support and services, consortium, funeral expenses, medical expenses, and lost guidance, nurturing and instruction of a parent. Should a jury award the plaintiff damages in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff is also entitled to interest on the verdict. The Court of Appeals was very clear that this decision, and the awarding of interest on future damages to a plaintiff, is not to act as a penalty against a defendant. The moment a plaintiff is deprived of the loss of use of compensation, they should be entitled to interest until that compensation is paid. To do otherwise would allow a situation which encourages a defendant to delay payment, while at the same time benefiting from accumulating interest. In the case of the wrongful death of a loved one, the date of the loved one’s death is comparative to the date of deprivation. Hopefully, this decision will act as an incentive to at fault defendants to compensate families for the wrongful death of their loved one(s) sooner rather than later.