She's standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. She's waiting at the crosswalk for the walk signal.

There's snow and ice on the road and the driving conditions are not good.

One driver is trying to get around a slow driver and swerves around the driver and speeds up. Little does he know there's a huge patch of black ice near the intersection. His car speeds up to 45 mph. As he approaches the intersection, the light turns yellow and the driver slams on his brakes.

The tires have no grip because they're on black ice and the car starts to spin out of control into the intersection at 45 mph. This 4,000 lb. vehicle has no control and is heading right for the corner of the intersection where it promptly plows into the lone pedestrian standing there, throwing her 25 feet into the air.

In the blink of an eye, her life is extinguished. Gone.

A mother, taken from her three small children.

A devoted wife, taken from her loving husband.

A woman who volunteered her time at her local synagogue helping homeless people.

A vibrant woman who was taken from her two older siblings.

A loving daughter who was devoted to her elderly and ailing parents.

How do you possibly put a value on such a life?

There is an old biblical saying about retribution and vengence and you'll immediately recognize it:

"An eye for an eye."

However, in New York and in modern society, those methods of retribution are not tolerated. Instead, there is only one option available for the husband and his children. To seek compensation for the losses and harms they suffered because of the driver's carelessness.

But what is the 'value' of her life? How do we as attorney's put a value on her life and her death?


In a wrongful death lawsuit here in NY, there are many different types of damages that may be available to the surviving family.

Here's a brief list:

  1. Pecuniary loss; that's the financial loss to the family as a result of her death.
  2. Economic loss; that represents the money she would have earned for her family had she lived.
  3. Non-economic loss; this is for the pain and suffering that she endured up until the moment she died.
  4. Medical bills
  5. Funeral expenses

Within each category are different requirements and proof needed to establish that the family is entitled to be repaid for those losses.

Here's a good way of looking at damages...

The careless driver (and maybe even the municipality for not properly sanding/salting the roadway) was careless. That's also known as being negligent. When someone's carelessness causes another person injury or harm, that careless individual or company then becomes indebted for all the harms and losses that person suffers.

Since our system of justice only allows us to seek money as a way to compensate the family, as opposed to seeking physical retribution, we say that the careless driver now owes a debt to the family of the person they killed. It doesn't matter that this was an 'accident' and was not intentional.

The negligent driver still has a debt to repay.

For the grieving family, no amount of money will ever bring back their lovely mother, wife and daughter. is the only thing our society requires must be paid by the wrongdoer to the survivors. It's an obligation. It's a debt.

How much to repay is something that is different in every case.

Many factors go into evaluating the true value of someone's injuries and death. Here are some of the key elements we look at when evaluating damages:

  1. Her age
  2. Whether she was working and gainfully employed
  3. Whether she was legally married
  4. Was she supporting anyone financially?
  5. Did she have children?
  6. What was her life expectancy had the accident not happened?
  7. How long did she live after the car hit her?
  8. Did she have some level of conscious pain & understanding of what just happened?

Some other key factors involve where you bring the lawsuit. That's known as 'venue'.

A case in Brooklyn may have a different value than a case in Rockland Country. A case in Queens may have a different value than a case in Suffolk County. It's just a fact of our justice system.

We then look to see if there have been other similar cases involving similar injuries and death for a person of a similar age. We look at reported settlements by other attorneys and verdicts all across New York for similar types of accidents and injuries.

Then, after compiling all that information can we get a true understanding of what is the the real value of the surviving family's damages.

We also need to see what insurance is available in this particular case. That will affect our strategy and how we proceed forward as well.

To learn more about wrongful death cases, I invite you to watch the video below...

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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