New York Lawmakers Introduce Amended Grieving Families Act After Hochul Veto

New York Lawmakers Introduce Amended Grieving Families Act After Hochul Veto
Calendar icon May 8, 2023

After Governor Kathy Hochul’s disappointing veto of the Grieving Families Act proposal earlier this year, State lawmakers will make another attempt to update New York State’s existing wrongful death statute. The previously proposed law sought to revamp the prior law, expanding the list of loved ones who can seek compensation on behalf of a wrongful death victim, extending the amount of time allotted to bring forth a lawsuit, and permitting additional claims such as emotional distress suffered by loved ones. Now, the revised bill seeks to accomplish much of the same, while addressing issues brought forth by Gov. Hochul in January of 2023.

The Grieving Families Act Originally Proposed in June 2022

The original bill, passed by the Senate and the Assembly last year, would have brought New York State’s wrongful death statute in line with 47 other states, as New York’s wrongful death statute has remained largely unchanged since its enactment in 1847.

Under the current wrongful death statute, only certain family members (the deceased’s distributees) can sue for financial damages incurred as a result of their loved one’s death. The proposed Grieving Families Act (Senate Bill S74A) was set to allow for an extension of “close family members” (as determined by a jury). It was also intended to expand the relief available by permitting loved ones to recover for other previously non-compensatory damages including emotional distress, grief, anguish and loss of affection/companionship. The Act also would have extended the time period in which these “close family members” could sue for damages by increasing the statute of limitations from 2 years to 3 ½ years from the date of the deceased’s accident.

Gov. Kathy Hochul ultimately vetoed the proposed bill, citing potentially adverse impacts on the economy, businesses and New York’s healthcare system, including a resultant increase in insurance costs.

The Amended Grieving Families Act

The amended bill, proposed by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, was meant to address the issues raised by business organizations and local business groups, including citing the potential impact the bill would have on insurance rates for New Yorkers. The new amended bill clarifies when the provision would retroactively take effect, limits the damages that can be recovered, and provides a clearer definition of who is eligible to bring forth a wrongful death suit in New York.

In its revised state, the amended bill will still allow for “close family members”, which will be more clearly defined, to file a wrongful death lawsuit as long as they are considered to be one of the following in relation to the deceased:

  • Spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Parents/step-parents
  • Grandparents/step-grandparents
  • Foster children
  • Step-children
  • Step-grandchildren
  • Siblings
  • Those acting in “loco parentis,” or those acting in place of a biological parent

 

The draft amendment also provides for a one-year increase in the statute of limitations, from 2 years to 3 years (a reduction from the prior proposal which would have extended it to 3.5 years).

Why A Reform To New York’s Wrongful Death Statute Is So Important

First, wrongful deaths caused by negligent actions of others are not an uncommon occurrence in the world of personal injury law. It is important for those who suffer the loss of a loved one to have proper recourse against the at-fault persons.

Moreover, New York State remains one of the few states in the U.S. that has failed to reform its wrongful death statutes. In its current state, New York’s wrongful death statute places the value of a lost life only on the deceased’s earning potential. By valuing the deceased’s life only by the monetary value that he or she provided to their immediate family, the current statute turns a blind eye to non-financial contributions and to the family’s grief and suffering. Moreover, by providing financial relief only based upon income/earnings, the current statute results in discriminate results for underprivileged individuals and those with non-traditional family structures.

The fact of the matter is, wrongful deaths don’t only occur to those who have economic value in the eyes of the law. As it stands today, New York’s wrongful death statute is grossly unfair to the surviving loved ones of a deceased child, an elder who no longer works, a stay-at-home-parent, amongst many others.

Cellino Law Stands With Wrongful Death Statute Reform In New York

Cellino Law is a personal injury law firm with a long-standing history of helping the families of wrongful death victims across New York State. After decades of experience in the personal injury realm, we have seen firsthand how New York’s current statute fails to provide grieving family members and loved ones with the justice they deserve, especially if their deceased loved one did not have a high earning potential in the eyes of the law. We fully support and endorse the passage of The Grieving Families Act, as it would modernize the outdated statutes that leave many New Yorkers with little or no recourse for justice.

Passage of this bill in its amended state would greatly impact many as a wrongful death accident can occur to anyone at any time regardless of gender, age, race, or financial status. While we certainly hope that no one has to endure the emotional and mental toll of a wrongful death, we hope to act as an advocate for those who have experienced these unimaginable losses.

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