Governor Nixes Grieving Families Act which Would Have Righted A Wrong in New York’s Wrongful Death Law


At midnight on January 30 a clock ran out. That was the deadline by which our Governor had to sign the Grieving Families Act bill – S74A into law.  Her failure to sign the bill into law is what is known as a “pocket veto”. The Governor’s deliberate failure to put pen to paper by that date and time was the death knell to the bill, which both the New York Senate and Assembly had overwhelmingly supported.

This was a tragedy for those in New York who care about civil justice. Why?

Let’s start by explaining what the now-expired “Grieving Families Act” was:  A proposed law to allow recovery for “emotional loss” (grief) for families who loved ones die because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. The law would have rewritten one of the most unfair laws New York has ever known.  Most other States in the Union allow families of those who are killed through wrongdoing seek compensation for their emotional loss. New York’s law’s antiquated Wrongful Death law (N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 5-4.1), which was written way back in 1847, does not.  The Grieving Families Act was meant to right this wrong. Instead, the Governor let the bill die.

And it’s a shame. The current wrongful death law is egregiously unfair, especially to the parents of young children who are killed. Under current law, their lives have no monetary value. That’s because New York allows families to claim  only “economic” loss for the death of a loved one (which mostly consist of a wage-earner’s loss of monetary support to his or her family).  Compensation for emotional loss -grief – is verboten.  Since a child has no earning capacity, her wrongful death claim has almost no value.

Example: A few years ago, I was approached by the parents of a 6-year-old who was run over by a car mostly because of a faulty parking lot design at a shopping mall.  Do you know what the case was worth?  About $3,000, the cost of the funeral expenses.  That’s it.  But if the 35-year-old father had been run over and killed, the case would have been worth millions of dollars because the family could have claimed all the money he would have earned and used to support them over the years.

Try explaining to the grieving parents of a 6-year-old that the careless, negligent corporation who killed their most precious possession owes them only $3,000 in damages for their loss.

Why did the Governor let this important piece of legislation die?  She has lots of excuses.  But here’s what likely really happened:  The insurance and medical industries successfully lobbied her hard to nix the law. She must have felt it was politically expedient to keep in the good graces of those powerful special interest groups.

The Grieving Families bill’s failure has triggered – well – grief.  One could even say that Governor caused its “wrongful death”.  So many families who were victims of the current law’s harsh treatment stood behind it.

There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. Grieving families lost the battle but not the war.  The Senate and Assembly leaders who championed the bill are already planning on putting forth a revised bill that would garner enough votes to make it veto proof. Let’s hope the bill is revived and made law.  As a lawyer representing grieving families who have lost love ones, I can only hope so.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

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Michaels Bersani Kalabank, P.C.
Syracuse NY Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

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