Revised Grieving Families Act Introduced

In June 2022, the New York State legislature 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. On January 30, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the GFA. In her statement, Governor Hochul expressed support for the intent of the Bill, but voiced concerns regarding the indefinite classes 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.”

On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, Senator Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Weinstein reintroduced the GFA (Senate Bill S6636/Assembly Bill A6698) with some notable changes which respond to the governor’s concerns.

First, the original GFA expanded 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. The reintroduced GFA now includes language expressly limiting the classes of plaintiffs contemplated by the statute as being “close” to include the following: spouses and domestic partners, issue, foster children, stepchildren, parents and stepparents, grandparents and step-grandparents, siblings, or any person standing in loco parentis to the decedent. The determination of who of these classes of individuals are sufficiently “close” to the decedent is still made by the fact finder.

Second, the original GFA expanded the statute of limitations from 2 years to 3 years and 6 months after a decedent’s death. The reintroduced GFA revises that time period to 3 years.

Finally, the reintroduced GFA revised the unlimited retroactivity clause contained in the original Bill to apply only to causes of action that “accrue on or after July 1, 2018.”

While these revisions do address some of the governor’s concerns, the drafters left the clause which allows claimants to recover for non-economic damages not currently recognized by EPTL 5-4.3(a), arguably the most expansive piece of this legislation, virtually untouched. It still remains to be seen whether the New York Senate and Assembly will pass the new Bill as it is currently written, or whether continued concerns regarding these broad categories of damages will halt its progress or require additional modification.

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