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The Grieving Families Act Once Again Passes the Legislature and Awaits the Governor’s Signature

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On June 4, 2024, the Grieving Families Act passed the New York Assembly by a vote of 125-21. Only one day later, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 52-5. Now, legislators and constituents alike are waiting and wondering if Governor Hochul will finally sign this bill into law.

A Quick Legislative History of the Grieving Families Act

The Grieving Families Act has had a long history in the Legislature, as this is the third time the bill has been passed by the Assembly and the Senate. The two previous times, the bill was vetoed by Governor Hochul.

The bill was vetoed for the first time in January 2023, with Governor Hochul issuing an op-ed that explained her reasoning for the veto. She believed the first version of the bill failed to seriously evaluate its impact on the economy, the healthcare system, and small businesses.

The bill then was edited and made its way through the Legislature once again. On December 29, 2023, Governor Hochul vetoed the revised bill for the second time, but lawmakers weren’t ready to give up on the Grieving Families Act just yet. In February 2024, the bill was once again introduced in the Legislature.

What’s the Grieving Families Act?

The Grieving Families Act would expand the possible damages that could be awarded in wrongful death lawsuits  – a kind of case that is filed when someone dies – and broaden the kinds of people who can bring a lawsuit.

Under current New York law, a wrongful death lawsuit can only be brought by a child, parent, spouse, or the personal representative of the estate of the dead person. Extended family members do not have the right to bring forth the lawsuit unless they were named as guardian or the personal representative of the estate.

The proposed new law would expand this to permit recovery in wrongful death cases to the deceased person’s spouse or domestic partner, anyone who was like a parent to the decased, and anyone to whom the deceased acted like a parent, even if not biologically or legally related to them. Stated differently, if signed by the Governor, the new law would permit recovery to the the deceased’s spouse or domestic partner, any person who is entitled to receive a share of the person’s assets, any person who had put themselves in the situation of parent for the deceased, or any person for whom the deceased had put themselves in the situation of parent. The bill states that the reasoning for extending who can recover in wrongful death cases is due to the fact that the 175-year-old law doesn’t recognize the many shapes that families may take and instead focuses only on the so-called traditional family.

The Grieving Families Act would also allow these family/almost-family members to be compensated for emotional loss, as the law currently limits damages to only economic losses and does not allow recovery for pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of companionship.

Last, the new version of the Grieving Families Act would extend the statute of limitations to three years. Currently, the statute of limitations is two years from the person’s date of death.

What makes this version of the Grieving Families Act different from the previous bills?

We know this is the third time this bill has headed to the Governor’s desk. Of course, it’s not the same bill each time, so here are some key differences between the current Grieving Families Act and its previous versions:

  • This version of the bill scales back the expansion of eligible family members to spouses or domestic partners, the decedent’s distributees, and “any person standing in loco parentis to the decedent, and any person to whom the deceased stood in a position of in loco parentis.” Previous versions proposed expanding the list to include foster children, stepchildren, siblings, step-parents, and step-grandparents.
  • It also narrows the statute of limitations to three years. Previously, the Legislature had proposed a longer statute of limitations of three and a half years.
  • The bill eliminates compensation for “loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium” which the previous two bills had included.

These changes reflect comments or concerns the Legislature received from Governor Hochul in her previous vetoes. If the Grieving Families Act is signed into law by the Governor, it would mean big changes in wrongful death lawsuits here in New York.

And, finally, New York would join many other States that already allow for the recovery of non-economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits. Of course, we’ll keep you updated on what happens next with the Grieving Families Act.

If you or someone you love is suffering because of the death of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, we’re here to help.

Call us at any time at 716.839.9700 or email us at info@coppolalegal.com

Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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