New York Governor Hochul Vetoes the Grieving Families Act

We addressed this bill in July 2022 when it was passed by the New York Legislature last year and sent to the Governor for signature. The bill would add wrongful death compensation for the value of “grief or anguish caused by a decedent’s death,” a type of damages never before found in New York law. Under current law, and for the past 176 years, the measure of damages has been the loss of economic support or other benefit resulting from the decedent’s death. The law would expand the statute of limitations and would apply retroactively to every pending lawsuit.

In an Op-Ed to the New York Daily News on January 30, 2023, Governor Hochul made clear her objections to the Act as written, while agreeing with the plaintiffs’ bar on the need to change existing law:

The question is how. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill, the Grieving Families Act, that would effectuate a complete overhaul of the wrongful death framework. It would dramatically expand beneficiaries, categories of damages, and the statute of limitations.

Experts have highlighted concerns that the unintended consequences of this far-reaching, expansive legislation would be significant. It is reasonable to think that the legislation as drafted will drive up already-high health insurance premiums, adding significant costs for many sectors of our economy. . . . This is a question that would benefit from careful analysis before, not after, passing sweeping legislation.

The Governor further commented that what was missing in the Legislature’s process “was a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the state’s complex health care system.” The Op-Ed continued:

We 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.

While this is a breath of fresh air from an unexpected source, we note Governor Hochul’s total omission of the potential effect on liability insurers, the premiums needed to meet these expanded liabilities, and the effect on the future availability of insurance for New York businesses and individuals. Perhaps that was a step too far for the Governor.