On June 2, 2022 the New York Legislature passed the Grieving Families Act, which aimed to “permit the families of wrongful death victims to recover compensation for their emotional anguish.”
New York’s current wrongful death law provides compensation only for pecuniary damages, meaning tangible economic losses such as lost wages. Damages for emotional grief and anguish do not warrant compensation.
The Grieving Families Act, as passed by the legislature, sought to update New York’s antiquated wrongful death law by:
According to sponsors, these changes were justified because New York’s wrongful death law, which is over 170 years old, “in essence, says that the attributes of our family members that we most value–emotional support, love, companionship, advice and guidance–count for nothing.”
In the weeks and months following the law’s passage, William Mattar, P.C. urged New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the Grieving Families Act into law. Unfortunately, on January 30, 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act, rejecting the proposed changes to New York’s wrongful death law.
In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News that day, Gov. Hochul acknowledged that “[t]he law today allows individuals to recover monetary damages for the loss of a loved one, measured in economic impact, without compensating for the emotional toll” but expressed concern that a “complete overhaul of the wrongful death framework” could have “unintended consequences,” including driving up health insurance premiums and adding costs to hospitals.
The veto was a disappointment to many grieving families across New York State. New York’s wrongful death law elevates the importance of “breadwinners” and fails to recognize the value of other family members who contribute to the family in non-pecuniary ways.
Earlier this month, on May 2, 2023 lawmakers introduced an amended Grieving Families Act, S06636 and A06698, which aims to reform New York’s antiquated wrongful death law while at the same time addressing Gov. Hochul’s concerns.
Instead of a statute of limitations of three years and six months, as originally proposed, the revised law would provide for a three-year statute of limitations. Its provisions would “take effect immediately and . . . apply to all causes of action that accrue on or after July 1, 2018, regardless of when filed.”
Among other changes, the amended Grieving Families Act would provide for a more restrictive definition of “surviving close family member,” which would be “limited to”:
Decedent’s spouse or domestic partner, issue, foster-children, step-children, and step-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, siblings or any person standing in loco parentis to the decedent. The finder of fact shall determine which persons are entitled to damages as close family members of the decedent under this section based upon the specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent.
In loco parentis is a Latin term, meaning “in the place of a parent.” The revised definition of “surviving close family member” is a contrast from the more open-ended definition included in the vetoed legislation, which had specified that the term was not “limited to” the class of persons explicitly identified in the definition.
Lawmakers are hopeful that this “more narrowly tailored” version of the Grieving Families Act will gain the approval of Gov. Hochul by “clarifying the bill’s retroactive effect, limiting the types of damages that can be recovered, reducing the extension of the statute of limitations, and clearly defining which is a close family member eligible to recover.”
William Mattar, P.C. will continue to monitor the amended Grieving Families Act as it makes its way through the legislative process. We are hopeful that, when presented for her signature, Gov. Hochul is satisfied with the revisions and signs the Grieving Families Act into law.