N.Y.: Renewed push for Grieving Families Act faces familiar challenges in 2024 legislative session

May 28, 2024

After the New York state Legislature passed the Grieving Families Act in two consecutive sessions in 2022 and 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed the legislation both times. Now, this bipartisan bill may be making a renewed push at the end of the 2024 legislative session.

Sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D-47, and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, D-41, the Grieving Families Act (S.8485-A /A.9232-B), also known as New York’s Wrongful Death bill, would amend the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law, to authorize the families of wrongful death victims to recover damages for emotional anguish or grief, loss of love or companionship, loss of services and support, and the loss of nurture and guidance.

The history of the wrongful death amendment in New York and nationwide

The 2024 version of the bill would modify the retroactive effective date from July 1, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2021, thereby shortening the retroactive window for wrongful death claims. While this iteration lacks an explicit definition of “close family members,” it retains the three-year statute of limitations extension for filing for wrongful death lawsuits that was passed in the 2023 version.

Since 1847, compensable damages in wrongful death lawsuits in New York state have been limited to economic losses, excluding emotional losses. Alabama and New York are the only remaining states that do not compensate wrongful death victims for emotional anguish.

Arguments for and against the bill

Proponents of the bill contend that New York’s wrongful death statute is discriminatory to underserved communities, and it does not adequately recognize the diverse forms families can take.

Currently, compensation under the law is limited to distributees, or those who would inherit a decedent’s estate. This narrow definition fails to account for the variety of family structures that exist today, such as stepfamilies or individuals raised by or raising nontraditional family members.

On the other hand, critics of the bill disagree. Some critics from New York’s business community argue that if the GFA is enacted, its effect will be costly on New York state’s economy as it could lead to a wide range of awards based on subjective emotional appeals rather than objective facts and reasoned arguments. It also may drive insurance premiums up for insurance consumers across most lines of business.

Effects on the insurance industry

An actuarial study conducted by the New York Civil Justice Institute has shown that proposed changes would increase medical professional liability costs by at least 40%, increase automobile and general liability premiums by as much as $2.2 billion—resulting in a nearly 12% increase in annual premiums across the board.

Given the current hard market, premiums of that magnitude could have a counter-productive impact, as it would drive up costs for physicians, making it harder to practice medicine in New York state, as well as drive up costs for businesses and motorists, in a time where it’s hard for insurance agents to place business and for consumers seeking affordable rates.

When Gov. Hochul vetoed the 2023 iteration of the Grieving Families Act, she expressed in her veto messages many of the concerns echoed by the state’s business community, that the bill if signed into law it would lead to skyrocketing insurance premiums for many consumers and risk the financial health of public hospitals that serve disadvantaged communities.

Without the sponsors of S.8485-A/A.9232-A making significant changes to address the governor’s prior concerns with this legislation, the 2024 version appears headed for the same fate as previous iterations.

With less than a week remaining in the legislative session, PIANY will continue to closely track the bill’s progression in both houses.

Theophilus Alexander
PIA Northeast

Theophilus W. Alexander joined PIA Northeast as a government & industry affairs specialist for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2023. Prior to joining PIA, Theo had served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. Previously, he worked as a legislative analyst for Hon. New York State Sen. Samra G. Brouk, D-55, and he served at the New York State Assembly, as a policy analyst with New York Assembly Program & Counsel. Theo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.

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