New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act just before its deadline on Monday night.
New York’s wrongful death statute remains largely unchanged since its enactment in 1847—over 150 years ago. As drafted, the Grieving Families Act (Senate Bill S74A) would have expanded the list of loved ones who can seek compensation on behalf of a wrongful death victim. Under current legislation, only certain family members (a decedent’s distributees) can sue for their loved one’s wrongful death. The Grieving Families Act would have allowed the claims of other “close family members” (as determined by a jury) to be recognized under the eyes of the law.
The Grieving Families Act also would have permitted a decedent’s loved ones to sue for emotional damages, including grief, emotional anguish, and loss of affection and companionship. Currently, family members are limited to pursuing tangible losses or recovery based on the earning potential of their deceased loved one. Thus, the current law effectively values a person’s life and, therefore, a family’s loss based only on salary/earnings. As Governor Hochul acknowledged, this “contributes to unfairness in our legal system,” i.e., disparate recovery for families of higher earners.
In addition to providing power to loved ones of the deceased, the Grieving Families Act also would have extended the time period for relatives to take action against an accused party by one year and 6 months. With this extension, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death claims in New York would have increased from two years to three and a half years from the date of the deceased’s accident. This would have provided grieving families crucial additional time to bring a claim in what is undoubtedly the most difficult time in their life, following the loss of a loved one.
In an op-ed piece published earlier this week, the Governor stated that she vetoed the bill because it didn’t consider the impact it would have on the economy, businesses, and New York’s healthcare system. “This bill passed at the very end of the legislative session; the bill was approved in committee and voted on by both the Assembly and Senate, in full, on the very same day,” she wrote. “What was missing was a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the state’s complex health care system.”
Other top state officials, including Attorney General Letitia James and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, voiced their support of the bill, despite pushback from business and healthcare associations which had lobbied the governor to oppose the measure.
Insurance, business, and trade associations cautioned that passage of this bill could lead to spikes in medical insurance and liability premiums for New Yorkers. An analysis by the Seattle-based actuarial firm Milliman posited that expanding damages awarded based on grief and loss would increase general and auto liability insurance premiums by over 11 percent, or an estimated $2.14 billion, for residents and businesses.
Despite acknowledging that the law must change, Governor Hochul nevertheless vetoed the bill, thereby siding with the insurance company lobby and ignoring grieving families across the state. Cellino Law advocates on behalf of families and loved ones of those who suffer wrongful death due to someone else’s negligence. Over 40 states currently have laws providing for this necessary compensation. We are disheartened by the Governor’s decision and will continue to advocate for the passage of an appropriate law which provides relief and justice for grieving families.
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