This veto marks the second time this year that Governor Hochul has declined to approve this bill, citing concerns over the “potential for significant unintended consequences.”
What is wrongful death?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action brought when a person dies due to the negligent or wrongful act of another party. The lawsuit provides a mechanism for the deceased’s family to receive compensation for their loss.
The compensation available in a wrongful death lawsuit typically covers economic losses like lost wages and funeral expenses. However, the scope of compensation varies significantly across different jurisdictions.
Current compensation structure in New York wrongful death cases
In New York, the compensation available in a wrongful death lawsuit is limited to economic losses.
Economic losses refer to the financial losses suffered by the family members filing the wrongful death lawsuit. These typically include:
- Expenses for funeral and interment services
- Costs of medical care associated with the deceased's last injury or illness
- Financial contributions the deceased would have made to their family
- The value of assistance and services the deceased would have offered to their family
- The value of parental nurturing, upbringing, and guidance for surviving children
- Inheritance that survivors have lost
- Interest on the compensation awarded, accruing from the date of the deceased's passing.
Notably, New York does NOT allow family members to be awarded for their sorrow, mental anguish, or loss of companionship. This approach contrasts with the majority of U.S. states, where compensation for emotional loss is standard.
Imagine a scenario where John, a 40-year-old construction worker in New York City, is fatally injured in a car accident. The accident was caused by another driver running a red light at high speed. John leaves behind a spouse, Alex, and two young children.
In response to this tragedy, Alex files a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver responsible for the accident, claiming that their reckless driving led to John’s death.
In this New York-based wrongful death lawsuit, the compensation sought by Alex would typically include:
- Funeral and burial expenses: The costs incurred for John's funeral and burial services.
- Medical expenses: The costs of medical care John received following the accident before his death.
- Lost wages and financial support: An estimation of John’s future earnings and benefits, calculating the financial support he would have provided to his family.
- Value of support and services: The estimated value of various day-to-day services John provided, such as childcare, which Alex might now need to outsource.
- Parental nurturing, care, and guidance: An assessment of the value of John’s role in nurturing and guiding his children.
- Lost inheritance: The potential savings and assets John would have accrued over time, which his children will no longer inherit.
- Interest on the damages award: Calculated from the date of John’s death until the settlement is finalized.
Notably, under New York law, Alex’s lawsuit would not be able to claim compensation for the grief and mental anguish experienced by the family due to John’s death or the loss of companionship created by John’s absence.
The Grieving Families Act Veto
The Grieving Families Act aimed to revolutionize wrongful death compensation in New York. Key provisions of the legislation included:
- Allowing unlimited non-economic damages (compensation for mental anguish, etc.)
- Expanding the circle of individuals eligible to file a wrongful death claim
- Extending the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits
Governor Hochul’s veto was based on the concern about the bill’s broader impacts. These included:
- Potential increase in insurance premiums for consumers
- Financial risks to public hospitals and other healthcare facilities
- Possible inflation of the costs of various goods and services
The future of wrongful death compensation in New York
The veto has sparked a heated debate among New Yorkers. Proponents of the bill, like the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, view the veto as a failure to recognize the profound impact of grief and emotional suffering on a person’s life. They argue that the current system undervalues life, especially in cases of non-wage earners or low-income individuals, and therefore must be changed.
The conversation around wrongful death compensation in New York is not likely to be over. With the example of states like Illinois, which recently passed similar legislation, the push for reform is likely to continue.