A modified version of the Grieving Families Act (the “Act”) bill was recently reintroduced in the NY State Assembly and Senate. On June 1, 2023, the State Assembly passed Bill A6698. It will now proceed to the State Senate for a vote, although when is unclear. If the Senate passes the bill, this latest attempt to expand the scope of New York’s wrongful death statute will once again be presented to Governor Hochul for her signature and enactment into law or veto.
Last year’s attempt to amend Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) §§ 5-4.1, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.6 sought to expand damages recoverable in NY wrongful death suits from “pecuniary losses” (i.e., a decedent’s future lost earnings), a decedent’s pre-death conscious pain and suffering and distributees’ loss of support, parental guidance/assistance and inheritance, to now include surviving family members’ right to recover for their own “emotional anguish.” That bill also sought to extend the statute of limitations from 2 to 3.5 years, expand the class of claimants to undefined “close family members,” and to apply retroactively to existing lawsuits.
Governor Hochul vetoed the original version of the bill earlier this year. While voicing support for such changes, she noted reservations over the scope of the proposed expansion of the claimant class; the financial impact of increased litigation costs and new claimants interjecting themselves into pending cases; increased health and insurance costs on lower-income families, small businesses, health care workers and hospitals, and other “significant unintended consequences.” She called for evaluation of the financial impact of these changes, including consideration of NY’s constitutional prohibition against limits on jury damage verdicts, acknowledging that states with more expansive wrongful death statutes also have laws capping damage verdicts. The version of the bill that passed attempts to address the Governor’s concerns by cutting the expansion of the statute of limitations from 2 to 3 years (rather than 3.5), and by expressly limiting claimants to decedents’ spouse/partner, children/grandchildren, parents/grandparents/guardians and siblings. This bill is also silent on its retroactive effect, indicating that it would not be so. Significantly, there is no indication that any of the proposed changes are based on the “serious evaluation and study of the Act’s financial impact” on businesses, hospitals and municipalities, that the Governor called for in vetoing the original bill.
We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress through the legislative process. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Howard Klar or William Parra.