Articles & Publications 02.06.23

New York Wrongful Death Law Remains Intact – For Now

New York’s law regarding wrongful death actions remains intact-- for now.

Governor Hochul’s veto of Senate Bill Number 74-A, “The Grieving Families Act”, recognized that the proposed legislation presented to her for signature would substantially change the nature of wrongful death claims in New York by enlarging the statute of limitations, expanding the class of persons entitled to seek damages, and enhancing the categories of recoverable damages beyond pecuniary damages, such as loss of earning potential.

Her veto memorandum reaffirmed her support for reforming New York’s wrongful death statute. Governor Hochul acknowledged that the characteristics of the current law are insufficient and contribute to inequity in the justice system. She highlighted the distinction between the compensable damages under the current law for loss of a child versus the loss of someone older who earns a salary. She observed that valuing lives based on a factor such as earning potential contributes to unfairness in the legal system. However, she expressed concerns about the unintended consequences that The Grieving Families Act would have across the state if enacted in its current form. For example, the infinite class of beneficiaries would likely create challenging questions regarding “closeness” to the decedent if The Grieving Families Act was passed. Additionally, the broad, potentially overlapping categories of damages may create confusion for judges, juries and litigants when determining awards. Furthermore, since The Grieving Families Act applied to pending cases, the legislation would have potentially upended numerous cases far along in the judicial process, protracting discovery and litigation costs. Finally, the way the bill was written, it would have likely increased insurance burdens and further strained healthcare workers and institutions – significantly impacting hospitals and underserved communities in New York.

The Governor’s comments that The Grieving Families Act was submitted for her approval “without a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes” on the economy, small business, individuals and the State’s complex health care system offered insight into the sort of legislation she might sign into law. For now, Governor Hochul indicated that she was “constrained” to veto the bill; however, she expressed commitment to ensuring those who lost loved ones in a wrongful death case are served justice and she has proposed allowing parents to seek emotional damages for the loss of child. Governor Hochul reaffirmed that she will continue to work with stakeholders and interested parties to come up with an equitable solution to the amend New York’s 1847 wrongful death statute. This indicates she will consider --and sign--a more narrowly tailored change to New York’s wrongful death statute in the future. This is particularly true if the proposed legislation was not retroactive, granted parents the right to seek emotional damages associated with the loss of a child and more narrowly defined the class of persons who are entitled to seek damages.