NY Gov. Hochul Mulls Bill that Would Expand Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

By Andrew G. Simpson | July 8, 2022

As New York Gov. Kathy Hochul mulls whether to sign legislation that will expand the types of damages that could be won in wrongful deaths cases, businesses including insurers are warning the change could mean higher liability insurance costs in the state, while advocates for victims are claiming the change would bring the state in line with other states and is long overdue.

The bill, known as the Grieving Families Act, has been passed by both the Assembly and Senate, updating the state’s 175 year-old wrongful death statute. It would become law immediately if Hochul signs it.

While current New York law basically limits recovery in wrongful death cases to a decedent’s close family members and for pecuniary or tangible monetary damages only, the pending legislation would mark a substantial departure by allowing recovery for emotional damages including grief or anguish and loss of affection and companionship.

The bill would also expand the family members who could sue to include spouses and domestic partners, as well as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents and siblings. A jury could define who is a close family member.

The bill would also extend the current two-year statute of limitations to three years and six months.

A leading proponent, the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the new law will bring New York in line with approximately 47 other states that already allow their courts to consider the value of lost relationships and 20 states that already recognize claims for the grief and mental anguish experienced resulting from a wrongful death. Alabama and New York are the only states that allow neither, NYPIRG said.

NYPIRG has represented families who lost loved ones in the recent Bronx fire, the Schoharie limousine crash, and other tragedies. “Each year, New Yorkers are killed by drunk drivers, medical negligence, defective products, dangerous roadway conditions, and countless other acts and omissions,” the group stated.

“No amount of money can replace a father, a daughter, a sibling, a domestic partner, or a spouse — but financial compensation for family members grieving a loved one’s wrongful death is a necessary accountability tool,” commented Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the legislation (S.74A/A.677) along with Assembly Member Helene Weinstein.

Economic Burden

But those new settlements could translate into a burden on the state’s economy, according to chambers of commerce and more than 30 industry groups representing insurance, building, manufacturing, health and other sectors that signed a letter to Hochul urging her to veto it. The American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the Big I NY independent insurance agents association were among the signers.

“This bill would have a disastrous impact on businesses in the state, endangering our economic recovery in these uncertain times. This bill would radically expand the kinds of damages recoverable in wrongful death actions, driving up liability insurance premiums for public and private entities across the state,” the businesses said in their letter.

The letter cites an actuarial analysis by Milliman that says the bill would increase medical professional liability costs by nearly 40%. Automobile liability and general liability insurance would increase by as much as $2.2 billion. The result would be a 12.6% increase in annual premium across the board for residents and businesses, according to the analysis.

“Liability insurance premiums are already higher in New York than almost anywhere else in the country. This legislation would make it harder to attract new companies and discourage local entrepreneurs from pursuing their goals and remaining in New York. For businesses already operating in the state, increased liability insurance costs will lead to price increases, pay cuts, and even layoffs – ultimately devastating already-struggling communities,” the businesses warned.

“For the well-being of the economy and communities across the state, we implore you to veto this bill, too,” the letter said in closing.

Hochul has not signaled whether she will sign the measure. Last year, she vetoed a litigation bill citing “significant negative impact” on hospitals and state government and local governments, which she said were already under great strain due to COVID-19.

About the photo: Firefighters work at the scene of a fatal fire at an apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in New York. The majority of victims were suffering from severe smoke inhalation, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

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