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  • Writer's pictureArtie Venti

Proposed New York Senate Bill to Vastly Expand Compensable Damages in Wrongful Death Actions

Experts Say Amendments to New York’s Wrongful Death Statute Could Increase Premiums By 40%

Proposed New York Senate Bill S74A, colloquially known as the Grieving Families Act or GFA, provides for the types of damages that may be awarded to the “persons for whose benefit an action [for wrongful death] is brought.” Consequently, its passage will vastly expand compensable damages in wrongful death actions.

Since 1847, New York Law limited compensable damages in wrongful death actions to pecuniary loss, which includes loss of financial support, funeral expenses, and medical expenses incurred before the death of the decedent. However, under the proposed bill, the definition of who constitutes a family member that may recover and what type of recovery that is available in wrongful death actions will greatly expand.

Specifically, the Grieving Families Act would amend Sections 5-4.1 and 5-4.3(a) of New York EPTL in the following:

-Would expand the time to commence a wrongful death action from two years until three years and six months after the decedent's death.

-Would replace the word “distributees” with “persons for whose benefit the action is brought.”

-Would omit the word “pecuniary” from injuries and thus permit recovery of damages for emotional loss when a tortfeasor is found liable for causing a death.

-Would permit recovery by close family members that includes spouse or domestic partner, children, parents, step-parents, grandparents, and siblings to be determined by the finder of fact based upon “specific circumstances relating to the person’s relationship with the decedent.”

If Governor Hochul signs the Grieving Families Act into law this year, it would go into effect immediately and would retroactively apply to pending cases. This “modernization” of the wrongful death statute will essentially codify that the damages caused by losing a loved one are not confined to the financial support received from their paycheck and will also involve the emotional and psychological damages sustained by those left behind.

The enactment of this law will not only increase the awards at the conclusion of wrongful death claims. Some actuarial estimates indicate that the passage of the GFA will increase premiums for medical malpractice insurance by 40% to 45%.

MMG is proud to be a leader in insurance defense litigation in New York and New Jersey. The firm is committed to staying vigilant and proactive regarding important changes to New York law, including those affecting wrongful death litigation.

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