Families of those who have wrongfully passed away in New York have gone years without reprieve, but that may soon be changing. The “Grieving Families Act,” Senate Bill S4006 and Assembly Bill A5612, a progressive bill waiting for Senate approval in New York State, proposes that a spouse, child, or parent can recover for their anguish, loss of comfort, and loss of companionship when a loved one dies as a result of another person’s negligence. Over 40 states currently have laws allowing for this type of compensation. New York does not.
What Can Families in New York Currently Claim for Wrongful Death of a Loved One?
New York State does allow families to recover “pecuniary,” or monetary damages, in the amount that the deceased person would have earned if he/she had lived. However, the glaring issue at hand revolves around families that lose a child, a stay-at-home parent, or an elderly person through another’s negligence, none of whom were earning any money at the time of death. In these cases, the family is not eligible to recover for its grief, nor are the negligent parties held accountable. What this amounts to is the State of New York telling your family that the life of your child, grandmother, or stay-at-home wife is technically worth nothing. In other words, New York can’t put a dollar amount on that life because the deceased did not contribute financially to the household prior to his or her death.
The law currently on the books, enacted in 1847, was designed to support families after the death of the family provider. The ideology in the mid-nineteenth century was that white men earned the wages and wives were completely dependent on their husbands. As such, the law only took into account the death of a white male wage earner, and the monies recovered by the widow and/or grieving family were based on the deceased’s wages at the time of death. Not only is this law woefully behind the times as far as gender equality, but it also fails to address racial and class disparities. It’s time to bring this antiquated law into the twenty-first century and treat everyone fairly under the law.
Why the Grieving Families Act is Needed in 2021
Countless examples abound as to why the Grieving Families Act is needed, but one need not look any further than the previous year to find many of them. The issue of families left without any financial recourse following the death of a family member through negligence of another has been accentuated over the past year due to the COVID pandemic. With so many family wage-earners out of work, so many personnel overworked, and so many cases of sick and dying from the virus who were flooding hospitals, a certain amount of negligence was bound to occur. Not only are the unfortunate families grieving the loss of loved ones, but they are also suffering financially because they cannot recover for their loss. They have no avenue to fair compensation.
Recently, a mother in Staten Island lost her only son to sepsis after he was misdiagnosed by doctors. Another set of grieving parents who lost their two-year-old daughter after a piece of a building fell on her have been more or less abandoned by the State of New York. These are only two of innumerable examples where New York has for too long favored an archaic law over its own citizens.
Another example is a wage earner, who was between jobs, who passed away due to negligence of another. Insurance carriers can, and most likely will, argue that because of this, the deceased’s financial contribution would be minimal.
In other words, the current law favors the insurance companies and not those the law should be protecting. Pain, mental and emotional suffering, and grief on the part of surviving family members are not considered grounds for recovery of damages, but they are very real and should be accounted for when a family is looking for recourse due to negligence resulting in wrongful death. Yet, as it stands now in New York, a family in this position is essentially out of luck. Too many situations similar to this one are unacceptable, and something should be done to right this wrong.
How the Grieving Families Act Will Eliminate This Problem in New York
Enter the Grieving Families Act. This bill is designed to allow the courts to consider more than just the victim’s wages when a family member passes away due to negligence. The loss of a loved one is much more than what he or she did or did not earn at the time of his or her death. Grief, suffering, and anguish go far beyond that and are legitimate grounds for recovery of damages in these cases. If the legislation passes the Senate and the Assembly and is signed into law by the Governor, it will right an injustice that has occurred far too many times for far too long in New York State.
The specifics of the bill provide that the courts may grant a person or persons who have filed an action for the wrongful death of a loved one to recover for damages resulting from grief and anguish; loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship and consortium; reasonable funeral expenses; reasonable expenses for medical care, treatment etc. prior to death; pecuniary injuries due to loss of services, support, inheritance; and loss of nurture, guidance or education.
This bill will take a giant step toward righting this issue and moving in the right direction. It is inexcusable that family members are not able to recover damages after losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. Allowing for recovery due to anguish, pain, and suffering can and should be part of the payment package awarded family members when a loved one passes at the neglectful fault of another.
The justice system in New York and throughout the country is based on the principles of equity and fair play for every citizen. All families who’ve lost a loved one due to the negligence of others should have the equal right to make their case and be heard in a court of law. The courts should have the authority and the power to make decisions on individual cases based on fairness and equality for all. However, the current, one hundred-and fifty-year-old law still in effect in New York prevents citizens equal and impartial access to justice. Not only is this inequitable, it can and does lead to other more serious societal problems.
It’s long past time that the Grieving Families Act was enacted into law. If you live in New York, call, write, or email your state representatives and implore them to pass this extremely important legislation.
Hire an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney Today
If you or a loved one have experienced a death due to the negligence of others, you could be awarded damages. For more information, or to consult with an experienced NYC wrongful death attorney, please call Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. at 212-385-4410.