Grieving Families Act: Necessary Adjustment to an Antiquated Statute or Disastrous for New York Health Care?

by Jenn Negley

Round two of the Grieving Families Act has slight changes but is substantially the same one vetoed by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year, citing the need to evaluate the “impact of these massive changes to the economy, small businesses, individuals, the state’s complex healthcare system.”

The sponsors wrote in their justification on, “New York’s wrongful death statute is over 175 years old, and it is unfortunately out of step with nearly every other state because New York’s laws prohibit grief-stricken families from recovering damages for their emotional suffering from the death of their loved one.”

The current law, which awards compensation for pecuniary loss only, impacts most harshly on children, seniors, women and people of color – people who often have no income, significantly less income or who have been traditionally undervalued in our society.

How does the act change the current wrongful death statute? The act changes who can file suit from relatives in line for direct inheritance to include those with a close relationship to the decedent. Clearly, it greatly expands those given the right to sue with little clarification on the definition of “close relationship.” Also, lawsuits previously included a single request for compensation tied to economic damages; now grief, loss of consortium and sympathy may be included.

While proponents note that the emotional component is part of most other states’ wrongful death statutes, it neglects the fact that, unlike the Grieving Families Act, most states have a cap on this type of compensation. With no cap, quantifying grief will lead to astronomical payouts. Adding to the speed at which these payouts will come to fruition, the changes will be applied to any cause of action that accrues after July 1, 2018.

Although one can see the merits of the justification noted above, it ignores the realities of its impact on the state. The state leading in claims and payout amounts will be a windfall for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Malpractice carriers are already struggling with upticks in claim frequency and the dramatic rise in award amounts. The act will add to the pressures already in play. To maintain solvency, carriers and the Insurance Department will keep a close eye on
these trends, which might indicate the
need for increased rates.

As we all know, the healthcare sector in some ways is still recovering economically. The margins that most hospitals and small practices operate under are often slim. Any increase will have a significant impact on the ability of dedicated healthcare workers to provide quality care. The sad truth is that underserved or undervalued individuals – the ones the act intends to help – will be the ones to suffer disproportionately from the misguided attempts to correct the current statute.

Most involved feel the act will be approved by Gov. Hochul in some form; it is such a high-profile legislation that garners a great deal of sympathy, and it is incumbent upon everyone to reach out to ensure any change is done in a manner that will not harm those it is meant to help. I leave you with this final thought from New York State Medical Society President Paul A. Pipia, M.D.

“We urge Gov. Hochul to veto this legislation again and call for the creation of a workgroup that can develop balanced legislation that will expand the rights of grieving families without devastating our healthcare system in the process.”

I encourage you to reach out to Gov. Hochul (@govkathyhochul) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For more information, please contact Jenn Negley, Vice President, Risk Strategies Company at 267 251-2233 or JNegley@

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