NY Governor Vetoes Grieving Families Act
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, for the second time in as many years, has vetoed the Grieving Families Act, legislation that would completely overhaul wrongful death claims in New York by permitting recovery for emotional damages and expanding the class of persons who can seek recovery for a fatality. The bill was delivered to the Governor’s desk on December 29, 2023, and vetoed that same day.
New York currently provides that a wrongful death lawsuit can only be brought by a child, parent, spouse, or the personal representative for the estate of the decedent. Extended family members, such as siblings or cousins, do not have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in New York unless they also have been named as the guardian or personal representative of the estate.
The damages that can be sought in New York are limited to the economic or pecuniary losses of the survivors resulting from the death, the medical and funeral costs related to the final injury or illness, and the value of parental guidance, nurturing, and care for surviving children. If the decedent sustained conscious pain and suffering prior to passing, an action can be brought to recover those damages as well. However, the current law does not allow recovery for pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of love or companionship for surviving family members.
After suffering a veto last year, a revised version of the bill was passed by the Legislature in an attempt to cure the prior objections. While the prior bill would have opened up the pool of potential plaintiffs to the vaguely defined “close family members,” the 2023 legislation more narrowly defined the pool of plaintiffs who would be able to bring a case for wrongful death to only spouses or domestic partners, children, foster children, step-children, step-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, step-parents, step-grandparents, siblings or anyone acting “in loco parentis” to the deceased person. Furthermore, the statute of limitations in the proposed 2023 legislation was expanded to three years from the date of death, up from the current two years, but not as long as the three-and-a-half years proposed last year.