Just read a great article in the New York Times about developmentally disabled people in New York State care, or in the care of not-for-profit homes charged by the State to care for them, who die for “reasons other than natural causes”. Check out the stats: One in six such deaths in the past decade have been chalked up to “unnatural” or “unknown” causes. Other states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts for example, count only 1 in 25 such deaths.
The Times, God bless their soul, undertook its own analysis of death records, to find out just what these poor folks were dying from. What they found is very disturbing: Many of these deaths result from errors and preventable deaths, such as drowning in bath tubs where the disabled were not supposed to be left alone in the tub, or choking on food when they were not supposed to be left alone with food; or falling down stairs when they were not supposed to be navigating stairs on their own. Some of the mentally disabled simply ran away, repeatedly, until they died out on their own.
The Times further found that these preventable deaths rarely resulted in measures being implemented to prevent the same mistakes from recurring.
Is this shocking? Yes. Surprising? Maybe for you, but not for me. Why? Well, you might think the State and these private homes would get the pants sued off of them for their deadly neglect, which would cause an about face. But I know better. As a New York personal injury lawyer, the most telling part of the article for me was this sentence: “Lawsuits are relatively rare after the deaths of developmentally disabled people in New York, in part because economic damages are difficult to prove, given that the victims are seldom employed”.
The Times is absolutely right. Under New York’s wrongful death law, a case can be brought to recover only the “economic loss” to the estate of the deceased. In other words, the family members who the deceased was supporting have a right to claim the “economic loss” of the support money they no longer receive because the bread-winner died. Most states, unlike New York, also allow surviving family members to sue for their grief, but New York does not.
Where does that leave New York victims of wrongful death who were not supporting anyone, such as children, the elderly, or the mentally or physically disabled? In the trash bin, that’s where. Their lives are worth NOTHING under New York’s antiquated, extremely unjust wrongful death law. I have blogged repeatedly about how unfair this rule is. See my prior blog posts below.
But this law is not just unfair. New York’s wrongful death law is literally KILLING US. New York State and the not-for-profit homes that care for the disabled know they can, with impunity, neglect their charges, cause their death, and pay nothing to compensate the family. With no price to pay, why should they bother mending their ways?
To be fair, there is one kind of death claim involving disabled people that New York personal injury lawyers might find worth while pursuing. That’s where there is proof of considerable conscious pain and suffering before death. The estate of the deceased, even a deceased disabled person, has a right to claim compensation for that pain and suffering. But since these poor souls often die alone, without witnesses, those cases must be rare.
Still, if you have a case where a mentally or physically disabled family member died from neglect while in New York State’s care, or in a private home-for-the-disabled’s care, call me. I would love to sue these guys to teach them a lesson! Lawsuits like that would make them think twice before neglecting their next victim.
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