Following the re-election of New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul, personal injury and wrongful death attorneys are optimistic that she will sign The Grieving Families Act into law. The new law would modernize New York’s wrongful death law providing the ability to family members of a person killed in an accident to obtain fair compensation for their grief.
The law regarding wrongful death recoveries has remained the same since the mid-19th century.
New York’s wrongful death statute has allowed only certain family members of a deceased individual (called the “decedent” by the law) to recover monetary damages as a result of the wrongful death of a loved one. (EPTL § 5-4.1). However, absent very narrow and rare exceptions, the law strictly limits recovery to pecuniary damages. (EPTL § 5-4.3). Pecuniary damages are economic damages for items such as medical bills, lost future earnings needed to support the decedent’s family, and funeral expenses, among other tangible expenses.
The Grieving Families Act, passed in the State Senate as Senate Bill S74A, will expand the existing wrongful death statute to allow certain family members of the decedent to recover for both pecuniary damages and emotional anguish as a result of the loss of a loved one if it is signed into law by the governor. Specifically, Senate Bill S74A will amend EPTL § 5-4.3, the component of the wrongful death statute which currently restricts recovery to pecuniary damages, to include “loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium resulting from the decedent’s death,” and “loss of nurture, guidance, counsel, advice, training, and education” as compensable damages in addition to pecuniary damages. (S74A § 2(a)).
However, under the current text of Senate Bill S74A, only “surviving close family members” of the decedent can recover from emotional anguish as a result of the decedent’s wrongful death. Senate Bill S74A specifically lists a number of potential classes of individuals who may qualify as a “surviving close family member,” such as a “spouse or domestic partner, issue [that’s legalese for the decedent’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.], parents, grandparents, step-parents and siblings.” Interestingly though, the Act says that “The finder of fact shall determine which persons are close family members of the decedent under this action based upon the specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent.” In other words, that means that a jury ultimately will get to decide what constitutes a close family member if the Act is signed into law. (S74A § 3(a)).
Additionally, if enacted, the Act would apply not only to all future wrongful death actions but all pending wrongful death actions as well. (S74A § 5).
What does this mean for you if you are currently suing someone for wrongful death, or are considering bringing a wrongful death action in the future? The Act was passed by the New York State Senate in June of 2022. All that remains is for the Act to be delivered to the governor for her signature. Assuming the governor chooses to sign the Act into law, it could significantly impact how much compensation could be awarded in wrongful death actions.
The full text of the Grieving Families Act can be found here:
Contact a NY Wrongful Death Lawyer
To ensure you completely understand the potential implications of the Grieving Families Act, ensure you reach out to a reputable wrongful death attorney. The Grandelli Firm has decades of experience with wrongful death cases. Contact us today, we are here to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have regarding wrongful death lawsuits.