If approved, the proposal would have made it easier for New York families to recover a wider range of damages in wrongful death claims.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has vetoed legislation that would have amended the state’s wrongful death statutes, letting families recover damages for emotional pain and suffering.
According to The Associated Press, Gov. Hochul has twice refused to sign the Grieving Families Act, which would have increased recovery in wrongful death claims. In her second and latest veto, issued this past Friday, Hochul expressed a desire to reform relevant state law.
However, she raised concerns that the proposal, in its current form, has the “potential for significant unintended consequences.”
The Gothamist notes that New York has one of the oldest and most restrictive wrongful death statutes in the country. Introduced in 1847 and left largely unchanged since its inception, the law permits petitioners to seek redress only for lost income and earning potential. In other states, plaintiffs may typically request compensation for a wider range of damages, including mental anguish and loss of companionship.
Since New York limits recovery to economic losses, compensation is often contingent on the deceased person’s occupation and earning potential. In other words, the family of a high-earning professional—a doctor, or a lawyer—would be entitled to far more compensation than the family of a lower-income worker.
Although lawmakers have recently tried to reform the law, Gov. Hochul has vetoed two renditions of the Grieving Families Act. Both versions were rejected on similar grounds, relating to increased insurance rates and unforeseeable legal consequences.
In her veto memo, Hochul said statutes predicated on the decedent’s potential earnings are “unfair,” often “[reinforcing] historic inequities and discriminatory practices.” But this notwithstanding, she said that lawmakers had failed to adequately address her earlier concerns about the act’s long-term repercussions.
“Every human life is valuable and should be recognized as such in our laws and in our judicial system,” Hochul wrote. “I proposed compromises that would have supported grieving families and allowed them to recover additional meaningful compensation, while at the same time providing certainty for consumers and businesses.”
Proponents of the legislation, which received broad bipartisan support, have already criticized Hochul’s decision.
“We tried to address her concerns squarely,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Democrat representing the state’s 47th District in Manhattan. “It’s absolutely outrageous that lives in New York are valued differently under our wrongful death statute.”
Attorneys have also condemned the veto, saying that the governor’s decision could come at a steep cost.
“With this veto, she is denying victims their day in court, making it more advantageous to kill than to injure, and putting corporate profits over patient safety,” said David Scher, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. “This veto is an abject failure of leadership to grasp the impact of grief on loved ones, from young children who have lost a parent to parents who have lost a child to the families of victims of gun violence to expectant families and communities of color.”
Hochul has, in the meantime, emphasized that she remains open to changing the statute.