One of America's oldest wrongful death statutes is found in New York State. Known as the Grieving Family Act, the bill is going through changes, with a bill currently awaiting approval by the New York Senate and Assembly, attempting to eliminate the inequities and unfair outcomes that the law has long encouraged in wrongful death lawsuits.
Please continue reading for further history into NY's Grieving Family Act in the following article. But, just understand you have legal options if your loved one has died due to the negligence of another.
The team at Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law has both experience and extensive knowledge about NY wrongful death lawsuits, and can provide the support you need to recover damages from the negligent party.
What Is The New York Grieving Family Act?
When someone's negligent behavior causes the death of a spouse or other family member, a wrongful death case is filed to recover damages. The lawsuit claims that a death has resulted in compensable injury for the family left behind, separate from any damages incurred by the deceased before death.
Statutes are in place in most states that specify what forms of harm can be pursued in a wrongful death case. Most of those states' laws take into account the financial and non-financial losses that families endure when a loved one dies in an accident that could have been prevented. This is logical considering that almost every other kind of personal injury claim allows for both economic and non-economic damages. There isn't a clear reason why wrongful death cases should be handled differently.
Regrettably, it is exactly what the existing wrongful death law in New York does. The law limits plaintiffs in New York wrongful death actions to exclusively seek compensation for "pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent's death". This was enacted in 1847 and has remained virtually unchanged since then.
With the current laws, the surviving family members of a wrongful death victim can only recover economic damages in New York. No compensation for emotional distress of family members is allowed, nor is for loss of consortium. In a New York wrongful death action, plaintiffs are only entitled to the amount of lost income or financial assistance they can demonstrate the deceased would have supplied, along with any medical costs for treating the illness or injury that caused the death, and burial costs.
New York's wrongful death statute produces a number of unsettling and frequently discriminatory effects by classifying the loss of a loved one in an avoidable accident or incident as a solely financial injury.
Below are some examples of the ways these laws prove to be discriminatory:
- It currently favors high-earning individuals, assigning more value to their life than an individual who makes a modest living or no income.
- If your child is killed in a wrongful death case, it places nearly no value on their life, leaving grieving parents struggling to prove that their child would have provided financial support in the distant future.
- When families in New York lose loved ones in a mass casualty event like a plane crash, they are economically at a disadvantage compared to families in nearby states.
- Because an injured victim can pursue non-economic damages whereas a wrongful death plaintiff cannot, it may indicate that the at-fault party financially gains if the victim passes away.
Long Overdue Changes Being Proposed
The Grieving Families Act Assembly Bill A6698 (also known as the Grieving Family Act) – which was proposed and passed this summer – aims to incorporate non-economic damages, the addition of "surviving close family members," the lengthening of the statute of limitations, and the retroactive implementation of the proposed measures.
According to the Grieving Family Act, wrongful death lawsuits may be compensated for both financial and non-financial losses. In addition to the economic losses already allowed under the NY EPTL, the bill, if passed, would allow recovery for the following non-economic losses as well:
- Grief or anguish brought on by the decedent’s death;
- The decedent's death caused the loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium;
- Financial harm brought on by the decedent's death, such as loss of services, support, help, and loss or reduction in inheritance; and
- The loss of nurture, guidance, counsel, advice, and education brought about by the decedent's death.
The length of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit would increase under the new bill, extending the statute of limitations from the current two years under the NY EPTL to three years following the decedent's passing.
The History of Wrongful Death Laws
How would these laws ever pass when they are clearly unfair? You may not realize, but New York's wrongful death statute was implemented more than 170 years ago. At the time, it was hailed as a shining example of modern, socially progressive law.
Most of the legal and judicial traditions in the United States, including those in New York, were brought over from England, where the rule of law dates back at least as far as King John's adoption of the Magna Carta in 1215. Wrongful death actions were not recognized by English law for many years. A simple court system allowed injured people to file claims for compensation, but they were out of luck if their loved ones died from injuries sustained in situations that were not their fault.
That changed when the Fatal Accidents Act of 1846, often known as Lord Campbell's Act in honor of its principal backer, Lord John Campbell. It passed in England during the height of the Industrial Revolution. The widow, spouse, or child of a deceased person was now able to file a lawsuit in England for the first time to get "such damages as [are] proportioned to the loss resulting from such death." Even the English courts interpreted the Act to simply permit economic damages, which was better than being awarded nothing at all at the time.
State legislatures in the US started to acknowledge the arbitrary injustice of barring a grieving family from entering the courtroom around the same time. Similar to England, increased industrialization and the expanding role of railroads—as well as the fatalities of railroad workers and others—helped lead to changes in the law.
Different states approached wrongful death cases in various ways. Some states initially only permitted lawsuits based on railroad fatalities. New York, on the other hand, went about reforming more quickly. Based on Lord Campbell's Act, the state legislature passed the wrongful death law that is still in effect today in 1847. It was the first comprehensive wrongful death act in the country and marked a significant improvement in the legal standing of common New Yorkers.
Other states soon followed New York's example. Today, all states permit some type of wrongful death case, in large part due to the example our progressive legislators established. But as was mentioned earlier, that initial law is now clearly outdated. When it comes to defending the rights of mourning spouses, kids, and parents, New York currently trails significantly behind its peer states.
If You Need Legal Help, Call One Of Our New York Wrongful Death Lawyers
Has a member of your family recently died in an accident or incident that was someone else's fault? If this is the case, you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation under New York law, and if the Grieving Families Act is passed, this potential compensation may increase.