The Grieving Families Act Halted at Deadline

In June of 2022, the New York State Senate and Assembly passed Senate Bill S74A, also known as the Grieving Families Act (“GFA”).  The GFA, supported by a coalition of families and their advocates, was set to vastly expand the amount of recoverable damages in New York wrongful death actions in three primary ways.  First, the GFA would amend EPTL 5-4.4 to expand the class of plaintiffs entitled to recover damages from the distributees of a decedent’s estate to anyone deemed by the fact finder to be a “close” family member.  Second, the GFA would allow claimants to recover for non-economic damages not currently recognized in EPTL 5-4.3(a), including grief or anguish, sympathy, and loss of consortium. Finally, the GFA would extend the statute of limitations to commence a wrongful death action from two years to three years and six months and would apply retroactively to all actions that are currently pending.

On January 30, 2023, Governor Kathy Hochul published an op-ed in the New York Daily News, outlining her concerns with the GFA, including how the changes would affect the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the health care system. Governor Hochul noted that “[w]e must fully understand the impacts of potential changes on small businesses, families, doctors and nurses, struggling hospitals in underserved communities, and the overall economy to ensure that undesired consequences don’t overshadow the good we can do for grieving families.”

On January 30, 2023, Governor Hochul vetoed the GFA. In her statement, Governor Hochul expressed support for the intent of the bill, but voiced concerns regarding the indefinite class of beneficiaries, broad categories of damages “which may result in confusion for judges and litigants,” competing claims for damages from new classes of litigants in currently pending litigation, and increased costs of “already-high insurance burdens on families and small businesses.” The Legislature now has to work at amending and re-passing the bill.  It is likely that in order to get a new bill signed into law by Governor Hochul, it will need to incorporate amendments that address the Governor’s concerns, such as retroactivity, categories of damages, and definitions relating to classes of beneficiaries.

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