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Legislative Update: Grieving Families Act

On Behalf of | Jun 3, 2022 | Firm News

When a loved one dies due to another party’s negligence, the consequences can be devastating. The grief the surviving family members can endure in this situation is often debilitating and indefinite. When a person or entity acts so negligently or recklessly as to take a life, that person’s survivors should be able to hold the responsible party accountable. In New York, however, pain-stricken family members in this situation are often shocked to learn that state law: 1) narrowly defines the types of damages that may be recovered and 2) restricts that recovery to certain close family members.

Currently, there is a bill pending before the New York legislature that would acknowledge the true nature of the loss and grief a victim’s family endures under these circumstances. The Grieving Families Act would modernize the law, establish appropriate damages, and correct other injustices that exist under New York’s wrongful death statute. Here is more on why New York needs the Grieving Families Act:

New York’s Wrongful Death Law Devalues Victims and Disregards Their Loved Ones

Sadly, New York’s wrongful death law, which was written in the late 1800s, has not changed much since its inception. Nor has it evolved to meet the needs of the population it is supposed to serve. As a result, this antiquated law does little to protect the people harmed most when a loved one dies. Specifically, the statute fails to: 1) provide a way for survivors to recover meaningful damages and 2) take a victim’s circumstances into account.

Damages

Under the current wrongful death law, when a person in New York is killed due to negligence, the victim’s family will be limited to recovering for their pecuniary (monetary) damages Simply put, pecuniary damages refer to the amount of money a person would have earned if they had not been killed. Unfortunately, this outdated law doesn’t account for the pain, suffering, loss, and other damages a family incurs when they lose a loved one to wrongful death.

The statute also disregards the contributions and value brought to a family by children, stay-at-home parents, retirees, individuals with disabilities, and others who may not have large salaries. In effect, the law favors high-wage earners while other victims are treated as having little to no value to their survivors.

Close Loved Ones

Senate Bill S74A, or the “Grieving Families Act,” seeks to remedy multiple issues pertaining to New York’s wrongful death statute. The proposed legislation recognizes that:

  • Only allowing loved ones to recover the victim’s potential earnings fails to account for their grief and loss; and
  • Excluding a victim’s actual loved ones prevents those who are most harmed by wrongful death from recovering equitable damages.

The Grieving Families Act proposes amendments that would make it possible for surviving loved ones to recover more than income-based monetary damages for their loss. The Act also addresses the limitation regarding close family members. Generally, New York’s wrongful death law only permits recovery by certain family members (e.g., the victim’s spouse and children). The proposed amendment would expand the definition of “close family” to a more modern version that considers the victim’s actual relationships and circumstances. This amendment would also permit unmarried partners and others close to the victim to recover damages.

The Proposed Changes Under the Act

The proposed changes under the Grieving Families Act are as follows:

  • Extending the time permitted to bring a wrongful death action by one year and six months.
  • Amending the law to permit recovery of damages for emotional loss when a party is found liable for causing a death. Presently, the law allows recovery of pecuniary (monetary) loss only.
  • Amending the law to permit recovery by close family members, which may include but will not be limited to:
    • A spouse, domestic partner, the victim’s children, their parents, grandparents, step-parents, and siblings.
    • Additionally, the finder of fact would be required to determine who the victim’s close family members are based on the specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the victim.
  • Amending the law to replace distributees with “persons for whose benefit the action is brought.”

Under the Grieving Families Act, a claimant could seek fair compensation for:

  1. the decedent’s funeral expenses;
  2. reasonable medical expenses including but not limited to nursing, doctor, attendant care, hospitalization, and medicine;
  3. grief or anguish caused by the death and for any disorder caused by grief or anguish,
  4. loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium resulting from the death;
  5. pecuniary injuries including loss of services, support, assistance, and diminishment of inheritance; and
  6. loss of nurture, guidance, counsel, advice, training, and education.

Why New York Needs the Grieving Families Act

The Grieving Families Act Recognizes True Loss

When a family experiences traumatic loss due to wrongful death, the emotional and financial consequences can be extensive and enduring. Wrongful death doesn’t involve losing just one aspect of the person; this devastating event severs relationships and deprives loved ones of the opportunity to share their lives with the victim. Additionally, grief doesn’t leave a family, and it doesn’t just affect one person. Those impacted by this type of loss will have to learn to live with their pain. Each person will process their anguish differently, and their reactions will change over time. However, one thing is certain—losing someone they love to negligence will change their lives irreparably. The Grieving Families Act recognizes the true loss loved ones incur when there is a wrongful death.

The Grieving Families Act Provides for Equitable Damages and Close Loved Ones

The Grieving Families Act provides representation for the emotional value we place on our relationships by recognizing the grief and other damages experienced when their loved one dies due to another’s negligence. A person’s wages can’t possibly encapsulate their value. As such, pecuniary damages do not come close to compensating loved ones for what they will endure and have lost.

When there has been a wrongful death, the law should not prevent the victim’s loved ones from recovering equitable damages. Nor should the victim’s close loved ones be excluded because they don’t meet traditional definitions of family. Changing the law would do away with outdated notions and recognize the connection between victims and their grieving loved ones.

The Grieving Families Act Protects Those Harmed by Wrongful Death 

When a family loses someone because of another’s negligence, they should be able to turn to the courts to seek appropriate and equitable compensation. The Grieving Families Act aligns New York’s wrongful death law with the current reality for victims and their loved ones as well as in the majority of other states.

The Grieving Families Act takes a much-needed comprehensive approach by considering some of the various ways wrongful death can impact surviving loved ones. In passing this law, New York would be taking a progressive step towards developing a better system. One that includes close family and considers the true impact of a loss of life. This is the state’s opportunity to correct an injustice that has long-deprived those most harmed by wrongful death and the opportunity to seek equitable compensation for their damages.

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party, it’s crucial that you understand your rights under the law., We are compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys who can help. We understand what you and your family are going through and can assist you with your wrongful death case.

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