Creating a New Path for Compensation
In recent news, the Grieving Families Act [GFA], also known as 2022 NY S74A, has been making waves. This proposed amendment to the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law [EPTL] aims to bring about significant changes in how damages are awarded to the families of deceased individuals.
A Shift in the Current Legal Landscape
For over a century, the current wrongful death statute, established in 1847, has limited close family members from receiving compensation for their non-economic losses in wrongful death cases. However, proponents of the Grieving Families Act argue that this law primarily affects vulnerable groups such as children, seniors, women, and people of color. These groups often face financial disparities and societal undervaluation, making it crucial to address the inequality they experience when seeking legal remedies.
Overwhelming Support in the Legislature
On June 2, 2022, the Grieving Families Act (A6770/S74A) passed with an overwhelming majority in both the New York State Assembly and Senate. With 147 votes in favor, 2 opposing votes, and 1 excused vote in the Assembly, and 57 votes in favor and 6 opposing votes in the Senate, the bill showcased strong bipartisan support.
Proposed Changes to the EPTL
In a nutshell, the Grieving Families Act seeks to make several key modifications to the EPTL. Here are the key highlights:
Extending the Statute of Limitations
Section 1 of the bill proposes an extension of the statute of limitations for commencing a wrongful death action. The current two-year period would be significantly increased to three years and six months. This extension would provide ample time for aggrieved families to pursue wrongful death cases.
Broadening the Scope of Damages
Section 2 of the Grieving Families Act aims to expand the range of damages that families can seek. In addition to pecuniary economic damages, the proposed amendments would enable families to pursue compensation for grief, emotional anguish, loss of support/protection, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium stemming from the untimely demise of a loved one.
Inclusive Definition of Close Family Members
Section 3 of the bill seeks to redefine the category of individuals who can seek recovery for wrongful death. Unlike the existing law that restricts recovery to distributive heirs (i.e., parents and spouses), the proposed amendments would allow recovery by a broader range of close family members. This includes spouses or domestic partners, children, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings. The determination of whether someone qualifies as a close family member would be based on the unique dynamics of their relationship with the deceased.
Ensuring Equitable Representation
Section 4 of the Grieving Families Act introduces a crucial change by replacing the term “distributees” with “persons for whose benefit the action is brought.” This modification is designed to ensure that non-married couples, such as domestic partners, as defined in Section 2961 of the Public Health Law, along with parents, step-parents, and siblings, have the opportunity to seek recovery. The specific determination of who qualifies as a close family member would be at the discretion of the factfinder, who would base their decision on the circumstances surrounding the relationship with the deceased.
Bill’s Impact and Governor Hochul’s Veto
It is worth mentioning that Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act on January 30, 2023. In her official statement, published as an Op-Ed in the New York Daily News, Governor Hochul outlined her reasons for the veto, including concerns about potential unintended consequences, negative impacts on healthcare costs, and the overall economy. She suggested that a revised version of the legislation, focusing solely on parents’ access to emotional damages in case of the loss of a child, could be an alternative.
Analyzing the Potential Effects
An analysis conducted by actuarial firm Milliman for the New York Civil Justice Institute has shed light on the potential implications of enacting the Grieving Families Act. Their findings indicate that annual property/casualty insurance premiums, encompassing personal auto and general liability for small businesses, could surge by over $2 billion or 11%. Medical professional liability insurance, specifically, could see an increase of up to 45%. Self-insured firms may face liability cost hikes of $1.7 billion or more than 15% annually, as projected by Milliman.
The Road Ahead
With Governor Hochul’s veto, the Grieving Families Act will now be sent back to the Senate for reconsideration. Pursuant to Article IV, Section 7 of the NYS Constitution, the bill can still be passed into law if two-thirds of both the Senate and the Assembly vote in favor of it, despite the governor’s objections.
However, given that the bill was originally passed during the previous Legislative Session, Governor Hochul’s veto cannot be overridden. Consequently, for the Grieving Families Act to become law, it will need to be reintroduced and reapproved by the Legislature before being presented once again to Governor Hochul.
As we closely monitor the progress of this bill through the legislative process, we will continue to provide updates and insights. Should you have any questions or require further clarification, we are more than happy to discuss and address your concerns. Our commitment to representing the interests of our insureds remains unwavering.