Bell Case: Wrongful-Death Payouts

The State of New York will pay over $7 Million to Nicole Paultre Bell and two of Sean Bell’s friends for the fatal 2006 shooting. Sean Bell was shot on November 25, 2006, on what would have been his wedding day in a car outside a strip club in Queens.  Over 50 shots were fired by police officers that killed Sean Bell and wounded Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.  It was reported that the officers thought at least one of the men in the car had guns, although it turned out none of them did.  Ms. Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s widow, and Sean’s two friends filed a lawsuit in 2007 accusing the police of wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations.  It has been reported that the lawsuit was finally settled and Ms. Bell with Mr. Bell’s children will receive $3.25 million, with Joseph Guzman receiving $3 million and Trent Benefield receiving $900,000.

Wrongful death is a claim against a person who can be held liable for a death that is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives.  New York’s wrongful death statute, EPTL §5-4.1, provides that the personal representative of the estate has the right to sue for pecuniary loss on behalf of the distributees.  Damages are determined by the court in an amount it deems to be fair and just compensation for pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent’s death.  It calls attention to reasonable expenses for medical aid, nursing, and funeral expenses, “in addition to every other lawful element.”  Punitive damages, designed to punish the defendant in cases of recklessness or depravity, are allowed.  A wrongful death cause of action must be filed within two years of the date of death.  It is important to consult with an experienced estate attorney if you believe you have a possible wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your loved one.

The attorneys at Leeds, Morelli & Brown, P.C. have worked with a variety of families in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island.  For questions regarding probate and estate planning, please contact an attorney at the Leeds Morelli & Brown P.C. law firm for a free consultation at 1-888-556-2529 or visit the firm’s website at     

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