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January 9, 2024

NYS Governor Hochul Again Vetoes Change to Wrongful Death Statute

On December 29, 2023, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul again vetoed the Grieving Families Act, which seeks to expand the current wrongful death statute that has stood for 176 years. Governor Hochul first refused to sign the proposed legislation on January 31, 2023. The state’s current wrongful death statute allows a decedent’s beneficiaries to recover only monetary losses caused by the decedent’s death. While a survival action allows the estate to recover damages for a decedent’s conscious pain and suffering up to the time of death as well as medical and funeral expenses incurred, the current statute does not allow for recovery based on the emotional suffering of the decedent’s family. 

The iteration of the bill that Governor Hochul vetoed on January 31, 2023, sought to completely overhaul the current statute, lengthening the statute of limitations to three years and six months, broadening the scope of recovery to include damages for grief and anguish or any disorder caused by grief and anguish, and expanding the class of persons who may recover to include not only beneficiaries who suffered financial loss but also other family members. Governor Hochul cited concerns that passing the bill into law would bring with it unintended consequences, such as expansive litigation, driving up health insurance premiums, and additional costs that would be incurred, particularly by the health care industry.  

Hoping to ease the governor’s concerns, state lawmakers made several changes to the original bill. The new proposed bill sought to extend the statute of limitations from two years after the decedent’s death to three years, down from three years and six months as originally proposed. The legislature also narrowed the effective time of the bill. Originally, the Grieving Families Act would have applied retroactively to any pending case but was limited to causes of action that accrue on or after July 1, 2018, in the most recent version. Lawmakers also more narrowly defined “close family members” in the new version and removed the portion allowing for recovery for disorders caused by grief and anguish. Still, this was not enough to persuade Governor Hochul to sign the sweeping legislation. 

While it appears that Governor Hochul supports the bill’s message of providing grieving families with greater judicial support following the loss of a loved one, she remains concerned about the uncertainty and economic pressure that the bill could bring in its current form.

Barclay Damon will continue to monitor the legislature and the governor’s office in relation to any bill proposed to amend the New York Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law in relation to the payment and distribution of damages in wrongful death actions.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Cory Poplawski, associate, at cpoplawski@barclaydamon.com; Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.
 

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