Grieving Families Act and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

New York is one of only two states that do not recognize a family’s emotional trauma over the wrongful death of a loved one. New York’s antiquated wrongful death laws fail to adequately compensate families for the loss of loved ones through another person’s negligent or otherwise wrongful conduct. The wrongful death of a family member imposes not only the physical and financial burdens but also the emotional and mental pain of unexpected loss upon a family. The current law, which dates back to 1847, assigns no legally recoverable value to the life of children, seniors, and non-wage-earners. Families of retirees, disabled persons, minor children, or unemployed family members cannot recover compensation for their pain and anguish over the wrongful death of their loved ones. Children do not stop loving their parents when they retire. Parents value their children more than anything, even though they do not contribute money to the family’s bank account.

Take, for example, the following hypothetical case. A loading cart in a store strikes an elderly woman. She dies less than an hour later. Under the current New York wrongful death law, her adult children cannot sue for their emotional loss, grief, and mental anguish. She was retired, so no income loss was associated with her death. The only pain and suffering damages allowed would be the pain she suffered from when she was struck to when she died. The case has little recoverable damages, and most lawyers would decline it. In effect, the law rewards the at-fault party because she died quickly.

Fortunately, things are about to change. New York legislature finally passed a fix to New York’s outdated wrongful death law. The Grieving Families Act currently awaits Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. The legislation permits a victim’s surviving family member to sue for pain and suffering damages, regardless of the decedent’s income and age. Finally, it recognizes a family’s emotional loss when a negligent party kills their loved one. Most expect New York Governor Hochul to sign the act into law.

What Is the Grieving Families Act?

Senate Bill S4006, known as the Grieving Families Act, permits courts to award compensatory damages to families for grief and emotional loss over a loved one killed due to another’s negligence. The Grieving Families Act fixes New York’s 1847 law that compensates families for their economic losses but not for the loss of companionship, guidance, and love in wrongful death claims.

What Types of Damages Would Qualify for Compensation Under the Grieving Families Act?

The new law recognizes the pain families experience over the wrongful death of a loved one. Grief and emotional loss are at least as painful as physical or financial losses when another’s negligence or recklessness kills a loved one.

The new law creates six categories of damages for courts may award compensation in wrongful death claims, including:

  • Loss of love
  • Loss of protection and society
  • Loss of assistance and support
  • Loss of reduction of inheritance
  • Loss of services
  • Loss of guidance, advice, counsel, nurture, training, and education

Additionally, the new law expands the circle of those eligible to recover compensation for someone’s wrongful death, including:

  • a domestic partner,
  • spouse,
  • parents,
  • grandparents,
  • stepparents,
  • siblings, and
  • surviving close family members

“Close family members” are determined by the trier of fact based on the specific circumstances of the person’s relationship with the decedent. “Close family members” almost certainly include children but could also include aunts, uncles, cousins, and others who can prove a particularly close relationship with the decedent.

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