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‘Grieving Families Act’ Will Finally Recognize Wrongful Death Survivors’ Loss

— June 23, 2022

For years, I’ve had to explain to New York families that the law does not recognize their suffering due to the loss of their parent. The conversation is usually met with anger, disbelief, and shock.

Despite the outrage, it’s true. Current New York law puts no monetary value on the life of children, seniors, and people who are not wage-earners. New Yorkers who suffer the death a retired, disabled, underage, or unemployed family member are faced with the harsh reality that their grief will not be compensated.

This is because New York’s antiquated wrongful death law, which dates back to 1847, only compensates a family for the loss of a breadwinner’s income. New York is one of only on two states in the US that does not recognize the emotional grief a family endures when they lose a loved one.

The present state of New York’s wrongful death law allows families to recover for the pain and suffering of the decedent, but not the surviving family members. I will give you a horrific example of how that legal framework is flawed, using a real case my law firm handled:

Elderly woman with hands folded in her lap; image by Cristian Newman, via
Elderly woman with hands folded in her lap; image by Cristian Newman, via

73-year-old Mom underwent hip surgery, and her surgeon insisted she do a short four-week rehabilitation at an in-patient nursing home. Immobilized from the hip replacement, Mom is dependent on nursing home staff to dress her. While being dressed, staff drops her, she hits her head, and dies of a brain bleed moments later. Using New York’s current wrongful death law, her adult children are unable to sue the negligent nursing home for causing their emotional loss, grief, and mental anguish. She was retired, so there is no loss of income associated with her death. The only pain and suffering damages allowed would be the pain she suffered for the two minutes from the time she hit her head, to the time she died. 

This is preposterous. A defendant should not escape liability because they swiftly killed their victim.

New York legislators have finally proposed a fix for this inherently unjust law. The Grieving Families Act has passed both houses and is on its way to Governor Kathy Hochul for signature. The proposed legislation provides pain and suffering damages to a victim’s surviving family members, regardless of their income and age. Governor Hochul should sign this legislation into law immediately and finally recognize a survivor’s emotional loss when a negligent party kills their loved one.

We don’t stop loving our parents when they retire. We value our children more than anything; despite the fact they don’t contribute money to our bank account. New York needs to amend its wrongful death law and join the 21st century.

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