How Would the Grieving Families Act Affect Litigation in NYS?
The New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate have passed Bill S74A, known as the Grieving Families Act. NYS Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature is the remaining last step to turn it into law. If signed into law, it will be the first update to New York’s wrongful death statute in more than 150 years. The bill itself can be read here: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S74.
In a wrongful death case, pursuant to this bill, grief and anguish become recoverable damages available to family members in wrongful death cases. The current law only allows recovery of economic damages, such as economic hardship caused by a loss of parental guidance; it does not permit recovery of damages for grief, sympathy, and loss of companionship or consortium (see, e.g., Liff v. Schildkrout, 49 N.Y.2d 622 (1980); Bumpurs v. New York City Hous. Auth., 139 A.D.2d 438, 439 (1st Dept. 1988)). If this bill is signed, that would change.
The Bill also expands the class of people who can recover those claims. Under the current law, only the distributees of the estate (including parents and spouses) were permitted to recover. If signed, close family members may all recover.
The Bill also extends the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim from 2 years to 3 1/2 years.
Accordingly, the insurance industry, businesses, and healthcare facilities are concerned that the statute will increase litigation costs, settlement demands, and verdicts in New York. The plaintiffs’ bar has long argued, however, that the existing wrongful death statute is outdated and fails to properly compensate grieving family members.
If signed, NYS would not be the first to allow compensation for grief and anguish; many states do allow for damages in a wrongful death claim for the loss of a relationship with a loved one. Twenty states reportedly allow damages for claims of grief and mental anguish resulting from a wrongful death.
At this point, it is unclear if Gov. Hochul will sign or veto the bill, although speculation suggests that she will sign it. Given the implications for our clients, we will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates on our website. If the bill is passed into law, we will continue to update our clients about the legislation and its implications. If you have any questions about this bill or any other matters, please contact your Russo & Gould attorney. You may also visit our firm news page for additional alerts on this very important topic.