New York State Governor Kathy Hochul Vetoes "Grieving Families Act" - Proposed Amendment to New York's Wrongful-Death Statute

Gerber Ciano Kelly Brady LLC's Brendan Fitzpatrick reports on the recent development on the proposed "Grieving Families Act" in New York:

New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the “Grieving Families Act” (Senate Bill S74A), which would have amended New York’s wrongful-death statute. Kathy_Hochul _November_2017 According to the Governor’s veto, the proposed bill would have “substantially” changed the nature of wrongful death claims in New York by expanding (1) the persons entitled to seek damages, “distributees,” to “surviving close family members” as determined by a jury; and (2) the categories of recoverable damages because damages would no longer be limited to pecuniary loss and would include losses for grief, anguish, loss of love, society, protection, comfort, and consortium, loss of guidance and counsel. The bill would have also extended the statute of limitations for wrongful-death claims from two years after the decedent's death to three years and six months.

Governor Hochul stated in the veto that while the bill is “well-intentioned, [it] represents an extraordinary departure from New York’s wrongful death jurisprudence and may result in significant unintended consequences.” The Governor identified the “indefinite class of beneficiaries” and the “broad and perhaps overlapping, categories of damages” that would have caused confusion. Governor Hochul recognized the potential for confusion because the bill applied to pending cases, possibly resulting in “claimants and courts” being “forced to grapple with new competing claims asserted by ‘close family members’ as well as protracted discovery and increased litigation costs, potentially upending cases far along the judicial process.” The Governor acknowledged that the bill “would increase already-high insurance burdens on families and small businesses and strain already-distressed healthcare workers and institutions. The increased costs would be particularly challenging for struggling hospitals in underserved communities.”

The Governor noted that the bill passed “without a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the State’s complex health care system.”  While the Governor expressed support for the intent of the bill, she cautioned that there needed to be more investigation into the potential impact on the State.

We fully expect the New York Legislature to re-visit this statute. What remains to be seen is whether the Legislature will pass a version of the statute that includes some of the changes requested by the Governor to amend New York’s existing, 170-year-old, wrongful-death statute.  

Brendan is the chair of Gerber Ciano Kelly Brady LLP's Appellate Advocacy Practice Group.

Photo credit: KC Kratt

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