In June 2022, the New York State legislature passed Senate Bill S74A, also known as the Grieving Families Act (“GFA”). As discussed in previous client bulletins, the GFA, supported by a coalition of families and their advocates, was set to vastly expand the recoverable damages and classes of persons who could recover in wrongful death actions in New York.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the bill in its original form in January 2023, expressing support for the intent of the bill, while voicing 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.” Just three months later, the bill was reintroduced by Senator Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Weinstein with some notable changes addressing the Governor’s concerns. For example, the reintroduced GFA included limiting language regarding classes of plaintiffs, and an adjustment of the statute of limitations. While the reintroduced bill revised certain clauses which Governor Hochul expressed had concerns, the drafters left the clause allowing claimants to recover non-economic damages not currently recognized by EPTL 5-4.3(a), arguably the most expansive portion of this legislation, essentially untouched.
Opponents of the bill argued that the increased access to damages for emotional suffering coupled with the broadened classes of individuals able to recover would usher in a wave of litigation and increase the potential for “nuclear verdicts” in the state.
On December 29, 2023, Governor Hochul vetoed the GFA for a second time. In her veto statement, Governor Hochul again explained that she supports the goals of the legislation, but echoed the same concerns expressed in her first veto regarding the potential costly unintended consequences of the bill. For example, the bill would have significant effects on the judicial system, forcing judges and juries to determine who qualifies to recover under the new “close” family member definition in many currently pending cases. The Governor added that “legitimate concerns have been raised that the bill would likely lead to increased insurance premiums for the vast majority of consumers, as well as risk the financial wellbeing of our health care facilities – most notably, for public hospitals that serve disadvantaged communities.” Governor Hochul explained that she remains open to updating the wrongful death statute in the future.
The vetoed bill will now be returned to the Legislature. A vetoed bill can become law if two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the Governor’s veto. The Legislature has until the end of the session (June 2024) to override the veto. Condon & Forsyth will continue to monitor the bill and report on new developments as they occur.
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