As part of our regular practice, Chartwell Law frequently monitors for legislation that could affect clients. As such, we wanted to bring to your attention pending legislation in New York that may affect the payment and distribution of damages in wrongful death actions.
The New York State Legislature recently passed a bill amending New York State Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Sections 5-4.1. 5-4.3, 5-4.4, and 5-4.6. The bill, entitled the “Grieving Families Act,” would allow a decedent’s close family members to recover for: (1) grief or anguish caused by the decedent’s death; (2) any disorder caused by such grief or anguish; and (3) loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, nurture, guidance, counsel, advice, training, education, and consortium resulting from the decedent’s death. This would be a substantial departure from the current law in New York, which only allows for the recovery of pecuniary/monetary damages in these actions.
Based on the language of the bill, the definition of close family members would be expanded to include spouses, domestic partners, issue (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren), parents, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings. The bill, if signed into law, would also allow a finder of fact, such as a jury, to determine which persons are close family members of the decedent based upon the specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent. The language of the bill is extremely broad and would give a jury the discretionary power to define what constitutes a close family member, effectively taking it out of a judge’s hands.
The bill would also extend the current two-year statute of limitations to three years and six months.
Notably, if signed into law, it appears this bill will be applied retroactively, thereby impacting wrongful death actions that are currently pending.
We are waiting to see if New York State Governor Kathy Hochul will sign this bill into law. If so, she may edit the current language of the bill by inserting conditions and amendments, similar to the actions she took with the Insurance Disclosure Act enacted on December 31, 2021.
However, if this bill becomes law as it is currently written, it will change the playing field for pending and future wrongful death cases. It could exponentially increase the value of future wrongful death cases, as plaintiffs will be able to recover for non-pecuniary damages on current and future matters.
Chartwell Law continues to advocate against the passage of this bill or, as an alternative, advocate for amendment of the bill so that it is not retroactive, to limit the individuals who may recover, and to cap damages. We will continue to keep you up to date on the status of this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process, but please do not hesitate to contact us should have any questions.