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January 31, 2023

NYS Governor Hochul Vetoes Proposed Grieving Families Act

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul refused to sign the proposed Grieving Families Act by the January 31, 2023, deadline; the act would have changed New York State’s wrongful death statute, which was first enacted in 1847. For 176 years, New York’s wrongful death statute allowed individuals to recover monetary damages caused by the loss of a loved one. This has limited wrongful death claims to recovery for financial losses suffered by the decedent’s beneficiaries as a result of the death. Although a companion survival action would allow the estate to recover damages for the decedent’s conscious pain and suffering up to the time of death and medical and funeral expenses, no recovery was allowed under either theory for the emotional toll suffered by the decedent’s family. 

The proposed Grieving Families Act, as written, was intended to permit an action to recover damages for a wrongful act, neglect, or default that caused the decedent’s death within three years and six months after the decedent’s death (four years for 9/11 victims), lengthening the current two-year statute of limitations. Not only would funeral expenses, medical expenses, and lost financial support for the decedent’s beneficiaries be recoverable but also damages for grief or anguish caused by the decedent’s death and for any disorder caused by that grief or anguish as well as loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium. Other recoverable damages would include: pecuniary injuries, including loss of services, support, assistance, and loss or diminishment of inheritance; loss of nurture, guidance, counsel, advice, training, and education.  

The damages were to be for the benefit of surviving close family members, which may include a spouse or domestic partner, issue, parents, grandparents, step-parents, and siblings. The finder of fact was to determine what persons were considered to be close family members upon specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent. Current law limits those entitled to seek damages to the decedent’s beneficiaries or distributees.  

The proposed act would have not only applied to new cases but also to any already-pending actions.

In a January 30, 2023, op-ed in the New York Daily News, Governor Hochul advised that the bill as written would dramatically expand beneficiaries, categories of damages, and the statute of limitations. She also stated that experts have advised that the expansive litigation may unintendedly drive up already-high insurance premiums and add significant costs for many sectors of the economy. Hochul was concerned with the lack of a serious evaluation (by the legislature) of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the state’s complex health care system.

Hochul also issued a veto statement not approving the bill echoing the same concerns, despite also condoning that grieving families should be able to turn to the courts for justice, accountability, and meaningful compensation for their loss.

Barclay Damon will continue to monitor the legislature and the governor’s office in relation to any bill proposed to amend the 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 John Gaughan, partner, at jgaughan@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.
 

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