Governor Hochul Vetos The Proposed Expansion Of NY’s Wrongful Death Statute For A Second Time

January 3, 2024

By William Parra

On December 29, 2023, Governor Hochul vetoed the latest version of the “Grieving Families Act,” which the State Legislature passed in June 2023. She did so the day after the Legislature delivered the Act to her for consideration, despite intense lobbying efforts by organizations led by the Plaintiffs’ bar. It was reported that she declined to meet with the families of wrongful death claimants last week to discuss the legislation. The original Act was vetoed in January 2023.

The Acts attempted to expand damages recoverable in wrongful death suits where recovery is presently limited to the “pecuniary losses” of a decedent’s distributees, such as the decedent’s future lost earnings. Although case law allows recovery for a decedent’s pre-death conscious pain and suffering and for loss of parental support, guidance, assistance and inheritance, these damages are often difficult to prove. The original Act sought to permit a decedent’s survivors (vaguely defined as “close family members”) to recover for their own “emotional anguish” or pain and suffering and to extend the applicable statute of limitations from 2 to 3.5 years. It also sought to take immediate, retroactive effect in all pending wrongful death suits.

In vetoing the original bill, Governor Hochul noted her concerns with the scope, financial impact and other “significant unintended consequences” of the Act, including the expansion of the beneficiary class, and the impact of increased litigation, insurance and health care costs on lower-income families, small businesses, health care workers and municipal hospitals. She called for serious evaluation and study of the financial impact of these expansive changes on the statute. She agreed with opponents of the Act that NY State’s constitutional prohibition against limits on jury damage verdicts must be studied and considered. This refers to the fact that although most states allow for the expanded classes of beneficiaries and types of damage claims the Act sought to add, they all also have laws capping damage verdicts, which NY State does not.

The modifications made to the original Act to purportedly address the Governor’s concerns were limited and did not provide any indication that a “serious evaluation and study of the Act’s financial impact” on businesses, hospitals and municipalities had been conducted. The Plaintiffs’ bar has vowed to introduce yet another bill seeking to codify the attempted expansion of NY’s Wrongful Death Statute in the next Legislative session. We will continue to monitor their efforts.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Howard Klar or William Parra.