Recently, both the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly passed a reformed Grieving Families Act, a bill that seeks to end the denial of “wrongful death” restitution to families based on their grief and emotional suffering. This finally puts an end to a longstanding injustice in New York State law that allowed for vast disparities in the value of a person’s life based on their age, class, race, gender, and other factors.
For years, families of those killed because of reckless or preventable acts were only allowed to recover settlements and judgements based on the victim’s “pecuniary” loss, an amount that was determined by the value of a person’s paycheck and the medical bills and funeral costs incurred, as well as the inclusion of an allowance for loss of parental guidance. No amounts for “grief and anguish” were permitted to be rewarded. This was due to the original Grieving Families Act, a law that dates back to 1847 and has been successfully defended by powerful interests for over a hundred years.
The 1874 Grieving Families Act had several holes that left many types of people without the ability to claim damages:
- The law devalued children, seniors, those with disabilities, and other people who did not produce a substantial income.
- The law barred extended family members (grandparents, aunts and uncles, step-family, domestic partners, etc.) from seeking damages.
The new Grieving Families Act (Assembly Bill A6698):
- Allows for the recovery of damages due to “grief and anguish.”
- Increases the statute of limitations to three years from the date of the victim’s death.
- Allows juries to determine who is classified as a “close family member,” and can award them damages depending on their relationship to the deceased.
- Extends the definition of “surviving close family members” to include spouses or domestic partners, foster-children, step-children and step-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, step-parents, step-grandparents, siblings, and others who are loco parentis (acting in place of parents).
The bill currently awaits the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul.
New York State Trial Lawyers Fight for Justice
The New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) has long been fighting for change in this area of New York legislation and has worked with lawmakers in Albany to pass reformed legislation. The ability of grieving families to not only receive pecuniary damages, but also compensation for grief and anguish, is integral to justice being served in wrongful death lawsuits. This is something Morelli Law and the NYSTLA will continue to fight for in the coming years.
Morelli Law is also proud to announce that David Sirotkin, a partner at Morelli Law, has been appointed to the Board of Directors of NYSTLA. He will continue to help lead the charge in ensuring victims in New York receive justice when they have been wronged.
Founding Partner of Morelli Law, Benedict P. Morelli also served as the organization’s President from 2005–2006.
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About the NYSTLA
The New York State Trial Lawyers Association works to preserve and enhance New York’s civil justice system, assure that the wrongfully injured will have full access to the civil justice system, and preserve the federal and state constitution rights to trial by jury. The organization has long worked with coalition partners—health advocates, tenants’ groups, senior citizens groups, anti-gun violence groups, and many other public interest organizations—on numerous issues to protect the rights of consumers.
The mission of NYSTLA is “To promote a safer and healthier society, to assure access to the civil justice system by those who are wrongfully injured and to advance representation of the public by ethical, well-trained lawyers.”