On December 29, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed, for a second time, the Grieving Families Act (the Act), a proposed amendment to New York’s wrongful death statute; that statute remains unchanged.
The current New York wrongful death statute compensates surviving family members based solely on pecuniary loss — the potential earning power of the deceased person plus medical and funeral costs. The current statute provides a two-year statute of limitations and defines a family member as anyone who would have been able to recoup under New York Intestate Laws (e.g., surviving spouse, children, or parents).
Had the amendment passed, it would have altered the statute significantly. The Act sought to extend the statute of limitations to three years and allow family members of wrongful death victims to seek damages for pain and suffering. Further, the Act would have expanded the definition of “family member” to include “close family,” which it defined “based upon the specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent,” allowing juries to determine whether a surviving person would constitute a “close family” member under the statute. The amendment would have applied retroactively.
Currently, the wrongful death statute remains unchanged. We expect that lawmakers will continue to seek to amend the statute with a focus on expanding its reach on damages and inclusion of a wider list of “family members,” especially since several states have already passed such amendments.
Chartwell has advocated and will continue to advocate against changes that will negatively impact New York’s wrongful death statute. On November 13, 2023, Chartwell submitted an opposition letter to Governor Hochul, requesting that she veto the legislation.
The letter pointed out that the Act would result in considerable increases in already high insurance premiums, placing significant financial burdens on New York residents and business owners, including small businesses. The Act’s failure to properly limit and define close family members would lead to confusion, delay, and inconsistent court rulings. Finally, given the current trend of high jury verdicts in the state, the Act would likely increase predatory litigation by plaintiffs’ firms, while its retroactive nature would cause chilling effects.
Notably, in vetoing the Act, Governor Hochul cited several of the issues raised in Chartwell’s letter, including concerns that the legislation would result in increased insurance premiums and financially impact New York healthcare facilities and small businesses.
We will continue to monitor and advocate against any changes to the wrongful death statute that will negatively impact New York residents and business owners. We understand the uncertainty brought about by potential legislative changes and are available to answer any questions regarding the wrongful death statute. Please do not hesitate to contact us.