One of the lawmakers who has helped lead a 30-year fight to reform the state's wrongful death law said Friday she's confident Gov. Kathy Hochul will see the importance of the Grieving Families Act.
The state Legislature passed the Grieving Families Act this session to expand who can file a lawsuit when a loved one's life wrongfully ends and consider the emotional loss when awarding damages. The bill would also increase the statute of limitations to file a claim to three and-a-half years from two.
"I think the governor will clearly... I'm hopeful she will sign it," said Assembly sponsor Helene Weinstein, a Democrat from Brooklyn. "It will help so many families in New York."
Weinstein has not discussed the legislation with the governor.
Dozens of business, medical and municipal groups pleaded for Hochul to veto the legislation in a letter sent to her office this week.
Wrongful Death Business Letter 6-27-2022 FINAL (1) by Ryan on Scribd
They argue the measure will increase medical professional liability costs by nearly 40% — and cripple businesses with an estimated 12.6% increase in annual premiums as they work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This would absolutely destroy municipal and medical budgets at an absolutely terrible time," said Tom Stebbins, the executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. "So we're hoping that she will veto this.
"This would significantly increase costs, especially around medical insurance, medical liability insurance, and New York has the highest medical liability insurance costs in the country," he added.
Weinstein said those who oppose the bill only take issue with increased insurance rates, instead of drunken drivers, medical negligence, defective products and others that cause unnecessary fatalities.
"There's certainly a way to ease the impact of the suggested impact of the law, and that is not to negligently kill people," Weinstein said.
The sponsor said other states, like Illinois, recently changed their wrongful death law and did not see an avalanche of lawsuits and increases in liability rates, and cited data that show premiums in the medical malpractice field stayed roughly the same.
Wrongful death damages could include a component for "pre-impact terror" or suffering prior to death, if the bill becomes law.
The state's current law covers claims under pecuniary losses, or financial loss to survivors instead of the resulting mental anguish — something that disproportionately impacts women, children, people and color and low-income families, Weinstein said.
New York, Alabama and Delaware are the only three U.S. states that don't allow wrongful death claims for the loss of a relationship with a loved one and does not recognize claims for the resulting grief or mental anguish.
Supporters of the bill argue it will bring the state in line with 47 other states, but Stebbins said New York does not have a medical liability cap on pain and suffering damages like other U.S. states.
"The problem with this legislation is that it's going to go full-speed ahead on the cost increase without anything to do to control those costs," he said.
Stebbins continued the bill will increase profits for trial lawyers in the Legislature's back pocket.
"I think what we've really seen here is that the trial lawyers' influence in the Legislature has grown," Stebbins said.
New York led the way with its wrongful death law in 1847, but it hasn't been updated since.
Weinstein has fought to allow parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, step-parents and siblings to file a wrongful death suit to accommodate modern non-traditional households.
"That's I think why the bill passed almost unanimously in both houses, because there isn't a real argument against the merits of this bill," Weinstein said. "I'm hopeful the governor will agree with us."
A spokesman with Hochul's office said she plans to review the legislation, but would not say if she supports the measure.
If signed, the law would take effect immediately.