Op-Ed: Kathy Hochul should sign the Grieving Families Act

Woman crying at a funeral

The Grieving Families Act has been reintroduced in the state Senate. This proposed legislation would drag New York’s antiquated wrongful death statute out of the depths of 1847. Twice in 2023, the state’s Legislature endorsed a revised version of the bill, underscoring the need to bring justice and accountability to families of wrongful death victims by allowing compensation for their grief and anguish.

The existing wrongful-death laws in New York inadvertently perpetuate deeply rooted societal inequities, favoring the lives of those with substantial incomes and unintentionally reinforcing historical racial and gender biases. The Grieving Families Act seeks to recalibrate this skewed equilibrium by broadening the eligibility for filing wrongful death actions, expanding the categories of damages, and extending the timeframe within which justice can be sought. It rejects the notion that the worth of an individual’s life is tethered solely to their financial standing and challenges the belief that primary breadwinners alone possess lives of financial consequence.

Predictably, opponents of the Grieving Families Act, spearheaded by insurance lobbies, seek to sow fear about increased premiums and a potential exodus of physicians. However, these arguments fail to grasp the broader consequences, not only for grieving families but for our community at large. Wrongful death often begets a cascade of repercussions — the loss of jobs, shuttering of businesses, and sometimes even homelessness for spouses and caretakers. When scrutinizing the financial calculus, one must weigh the inevitable government assistance required for some families of wrongful death victims.

Despite objections from insurance and other interest groups, the Grieving Families Act stands as a testament to the resounding voice of the people, reflected in its near-unanimous approval in both houses of the state Legislature for two consecutive years. The clamor is not merely for a legal edict but for a paradigm shift that places the sanctity of individuals above the machinations of powerful lobbies.

In the legal community, there’s a grim adage that regulations are often written in blood, emphasizing the reality that legal action and damages are sometimes the only deterrents against wrongdoing. New Yorkers are urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to enact a law that prevents families from enduring a double victimization — first, when their loved one is wrongfully killed, and second, when the law denies them accountability for that loss.

Despite the bill’s two previous vetoes by the governor, who cited concerns about broadening beneficiary eligibility and extending the statute of limitations, it’s crucial to note that nearly every other state has successfully navigated similar complexities. The potential legal intricacies must not overshadow the fundamental imperative of delivering justice to grieving families.

There is a collective hope that justice and equity will be prioritized for all New Yorkers. The call is for laws that champion accountability and fairness in wrongful death cases, placing the interests of the people ahead of influential lobbyists.