Posted: June 16, 2022
The death of a family member can cause profound shock and confusion, particularly when the death was wrongfully caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another. Nothing can bring a family member back after a wrongful death on New York roads. Surviving close family members must find the strength to move on without the presence of their loved one, which can sometimes lead to feelings of intense sadness that hopefully diminish as the grieving process plays out.
Those familiar with New York tort law may wonder: after the wrongful death of a loved one, can surviving close family members receive compensation for sadness or emotional harm?
After all, but for the negligent or wrongful act, the family member would still be at the holiday dinner table. Not only did the wrongdoer take that life, but the wrongdoer may have also deprived the family of love, society, protection, comfort, and companionship resulting from the death.
The answer to this question may be subject to change, as New York’s Governor continues to mull whether to sign into law the “Grieving Families Act.”
This bill would dramatically alter New York’s current wrongful death statute, which recognizes compensation only for “pecuniary injuries,” meaning economic damages (for example, lost wages) resulting from the death. The Grieving Families Act would amend New York’s pre-civil-war-era wrongful death law and bring it in line with most other states that allow grieving family members to recover for economic damages and emotional anguish arising from the wrongful death.
The Grieving Families Act, if enacted, would allow surviving close family members to receive compensation for the sadness they endured, and will continue to endure, after the loss of a family member. The New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law would be amended so that “surviving close family members”—which may include a “spouse, domestic partner, issue, parents, step-parents and siblings”—can recover for pecuniary damages and “loss of love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, and consortium resulting from the decedent’s death” as well as “grief or anguish caused by the . . . death, and for any disorder caused by such grief or anguish.”
According to the lawmakers who drafted and sponsored the Grieving Families Act, this change would “not only better address and more fully right the wrong to the family of the deceased” but also “deter the negligent, reckless, sometimes criminal behavior that leads to needless deaths.” Lawmakers observed that: “it is ironic and contrary to public policy that currently a wrongdoer may take advantage of the law that makes it cheaper to kill someone than to seriously injure them.”
This “harsh anomaly of the current wrongful death law,” noted by lawmakers, is difficult to fathom. Individuals injured by the negligence of another can generally bring a claim for compensatory damages, which can include future pain and suffering over an extended period, meant to compensate the injured person for anguish experienced over the remainder of life.
If life is tragically cut short, however, damages for future pain and suffering may not be recovered, resulting in that “harsh anomaly.” Emotional anguish experienced after the loss of a loved one may be different than that experienced after a permanent injury, but is anguish, nonetheless.
William Mattar, P.C. continues to monitor the Grieving Families Act, because its enactment could significantly impact NY wrongful death claims. William Mattar, P.C.’s experienced attorneys can help wrongful death victims and advise them how enactment of the Grieving Families Act could potentially affect a case. Learn more by calling (844) 444-4444 or reach out online.