New York’s Governor Vetoes Expansion of Wrongful Death Damages

Although it was expected to be passed by Governor Hochul, the Grieving Families Act (GFA) was vetoed in the last week of January 2023. This law would have changed the way wrongful death cases were compensated, in two primary ways: it would have expanded the types of people who could receive compensation, and it would have increased the amount of allowable damages. New York’s current law regarding these matters (the Estates, Power, & Trusts Law) was written in the mid-1800s, and doesn’t accurately reflect today’s society or understanding of loss.

The good news? This isn’t the end of the story. Governor Hochul has pointed out some concerns that she has about the GFA in its current form, which will likely be addressed by the time the bill is up for approval for a second time. In the meantime, what about New York residents who are considering a wrongful death lawsuit? They’ll still have to abide by current laws, but the right personal injury lawyer will have their backs to ensure the best settlement possible. Firms like Injured 914 are dedicated to helping their clients learn about their rights, as well as getting justice for their losses.

Why did the GFA get vetoed?

Even though the GFA would have brought much-needed changes, opponents said that it was an overreach that would unfairly impact insurance companies and hospitals. Those leading the charge against the new law include the Greater New York Hospital Association, and the Defense Association of New York.
- One of their main concerns is that the legislation could impact insurance premiums for healthcare providers – up to 40% more in some cases. Insurers also provided an estimate of six billion dollars that they would have to pay for wrongful death suits. This estimate wouldn’t be the total payout; it only represents what they may have to pay for newly applicable emotional damages.
- Another notable change was to increase the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases to 3.5 years, up from 2 years. This wasn’t necessarily controversial, but the law also would have applied to pending wrongful death cases as well – something that opponents said was unconstitutional. Governor Hochul has hinted that if this measure (among others) were taken out of the next draft of the GFA law, she would be much more amenable to passing it.

Before the veto, things looked good for the GFA. It was passed in 2022 by the New York Legislature (both chambers) with extremely comfortable margins, and few people anticipated any issue from the governor’s side of things. She had been facing pressure related to the person she nominated for New York’s Chief Judge, and signing the GFA would have been a gesture of appeasement to her political left.

However, Governor Hochul seems to have considered other arguments than simply playing the political chessboard. She was generally supportive of the GFA, but she wasn’t happy about the potential impact on insurance premiums for healthcare providers, which are already high. She also noted that the legislation could have a negative effect on small businesses, something else that she’s keen to avoid. Among other suggestions, she observed that exempting medical malpractice claims for wrongful death cases could increase the GFA’s chances of getting signed into law.

Why proponents of the GFA say that the law needs to be updated

The current law that governs wrongful death suits has two major shortcomings, according to GFA supporters.
- The people who are entitled to remuneration are limited to traditional close family members. It excludes grandparents, step-parents, and same-sex partners, for example. These people can be just as affected by a wrongful death as parents, siblings, or spouses in a conventional marriage, but the law doesn’t consider their loss to be on the same level at this time.
- Remunerations are calculated based on the loss of income, and doesn’t account for loss of consortium, sympathy, or grief. The argument is that the current law almost reduces the loss of life to a loss of income, and doesn’t consider the full impact of a wrongful death.

Proponents of this new law have pointed out that the changes they’re trying to implement aren’t anything new. 41 out of 50 states already award compensation to plaintiffs in wrongful death cases who are affected by emotional loss. They say that by keeping the current law in place, wrongful death cases are less likely to fairly compensate those with disabilities, people of color, women, seniors, and children.

What does the future look like for the GFA?

A legislative override of Governor Hochul’s veto is technically possible, but not likely. Rather, it’s predicted that the GFA’s legislative sponsors will resubmit it at some point in 2023, after reworking it to include the governor’s suggested modifications. For example, it’s very likely that any new version of the GFA will have provisions in place to protect hospitals and other healthcare providers from medical malpractice claims. It’s also likely that the definition of a “close relative” will be narrowed slightly from the original version of the GFA, since that was a sticking point for opponents of the legislation. Lastly, it’s thought that any new version of the GFA won’t apply retroactively to pending cases, as this was a major point of contention for opponents as well.

New York insurers and various corporate interests, plus the state’s defense bar, felt like they’d achieved victory when Governor Hochul vetoed the GFA. However, this isn’t likely to be a permanent one. The governor has expressed that she’s generally in favor of the legislation; it’s just that there are a few aspects of it that she isn’t willing to sign into law. Legislators have already passed the law once, and they’re willing to compromise in order to get a signature from the governor.
While it’s true that proponents of the GFA were equally optimistic about getting it passed the first time around, they now have more information to work with. Now that they have a better idea of what would be acceptable to Governor Hochul, the GFA is more likely to be signed into law within the next legislative year.

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Posted - 03/01/2023