On January 30, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul failed to pass the Grieving Families Act which would have overhauled New York’s 175-year-old wrongful death statute. In the final hours before the midnight deadline, Gov. Hochul announced in an op-ed published by the Daily News that she would be vetoing the proposed bill. Previously, on June 2, 2022, Bill S74A, the Grieving Family Act passed the Senate and Assembly and was awaiting Gov. Hochul’s signature.
As it stands currently, the wrongful death statute limits wrongful death claims to immediate family members which include surviving spouses and children. A wrongful death lawsuit must be commenced within two years after the deceased’s death. If damages are awarded, the immediate family receives compensation for pecuniary injuries resulting from the deceased’s death. The damages awarded may also include recoverable damages such as reasonable expenses for medical aid and funeral expenses.
However, the Grieving Family Act intended to be more inclusive by expanding the class of plaintiffs to those who had a “close” relationship, including but not limited to, a spouse or domestic partner, children, parents, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings. The finder of fact would determine which are close family members based on the person’s relationship with the decedent. Additionally, the period for filing a claim would have increased to three years and six months after the deceased’s death. Furthermore, the damages awarded would be expanded to include grief or anguish; loss of love, comfort, and companionship; pecuniary injuries including loss of services; and loss of nurture, guidance, counsel, and education. The Grieving Families Act would have applied retroactively to all pending wrongful death lawsuits in New York.
In vetoing the proposed Act, Governor Hochul cited to the “unintended consequences of this far-reaching, expansive legislation.” Specifically, the possibility that this legislation would drive up already high health insurance premiums and add significant costs for the many sectors of the economy that are still recovering from the pandemic such as public hospitals. Nevertheless, Governor Hochul did acknowledge that the current statute is outdated and in need of revisions, however noted that appropriate steps must be taken to strike the right balance.
While the Grieving Families Act failed to get ratified by the Governor this time, we anticipate that the State Legislature will heed Governor Hochul’s direction and rework the previously proposed legislation so as to still expand benefits under the existing law enough to garner the Governor’s support and ultimate endorsement.
GRSLBG&B will continue to monitor the status of any further legislation in this area.
 Russ M. Patane, Esq. is a Shareholder in GRSLBG&B’s Litigation Department. He defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey and New York State and Federal Courts. Russ can be reached at RPatane@grsl.com.
 Angela L. Peña, Esq.. is an Associate in GRSLBG&B’s Litigation Department. She defends a wide variety of clients in New York State Courts. Angela can be reached at APena@grsl.com.