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Understanding the Proposed Grieving Families Act and Its Impact on Wrongful Death Claims in New York

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Peter J. Gregory
Mar 1, 2024
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The legal landscape surrounding wrongful death claims in New York State is poised for a significant transformation with the proposed introduction of the Grieving Families Act. This legislation, if passed, will mark a substantial shift in how the law views and compensates for the loss of life due to the negligence or intentional harm of other. This article provides a brief summary of the proposed Act, its objectives, its differences from existing laws, and the potential ramifications for families and litigants involved in wrongful death claims.

Introduction to Wrongful Death Claims in New York

Wrongful death claims in New York are civil personal injury actions that allow certain family members or the estate of the deceased to seek financial compensation when a death has been caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party. Under the current legal framework, these claims primarily focus on the economic loss suffered by the survivors, such as the deceased's future earnings potential and the financial contributions they would have made to their family.

The Grieving Families Act: An Overview

The Grieving Families Act proposes to expand the scope of compensation in wrongful death lawsuits beyond the current economic-based model. This legislative effort seeks to recognize and compensate for the emotional anguish and loss suffered by the family members of the deceased. The Act aims to align New York's wrongful death statutes more closely with those of other states that already allow for the recovery of damages for emotional pain and suffering.

Key Features of the Proposed Legislation

  • Non-Economic Damages: The Act would allow the families of the deceased to recover damages for their emotional pain and suffering, acknowledging the profound personal loss that cannot be quantified monetarily.
  • Extended Statute of Limitations: It proposes to extend the statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims from two years to six years, giving families more time to seek justice.
  • Expanded Definition of Beneficiaries: The legislation aims to broaden the category of individuals who can be considered beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim, potentially including more distant relatives or dependents.

Potential Impact on Families and Personal Injury Litigation

  • Increased Compensation for Families: The most immediate and apparent effect of the Grieving Families Act would be the potential for increased compensation awards to families who have lost a loved one due to another's negligence. This change recognizes the emotional and psychological impact of such a loss, offering a semblance of justice to grieving families.
  • Broader Participation in Claims: By expanding the definition of who qualifies as a beneficiary, more family members could participate in wrongful death claims. This inclusivity acknowledges the widespread impact a death can have across a family unit, providing a legal avenue for more individuals to seek compensation.

Legal and Societal Considerations

  • Balancing Compensation with Fairness: A critical consideration in the debate over the Grieving Families Act is finding a balance between adequately compensating grieving families and ensuring fairness for defendants. Critics of the Act argue that it could lead to inflated damages awards and encourage a surge in litigation, while proponents emphasize the need for the legal system to fully recognize and compensate for the loss of life.
  • The Role of Juries: The Act places significant responsibility on juries to determine appropriate compensation for non-economic damages. This discretion raises questions about the consistency of awards and the potential for subjective factors to influence outcomes. Establishing guidelines or caps on non-economic damages is a topic of discussion among legal professionals and lawmakers.

Conclusion: A Shift Towards Compassionate Justice

The proposed Grieving Families Act represents a pivotal shift towards a more compassionate legal approach to wrongful death claims in New York State. By recognizing the emotional and psychological toll of losing a loved one, the legislation seeks to provide families with a more comprehensive form of justice. As the debate around the Act continues, it is essential for lawmakers, legal professionals, and the public to engage in thoughtful consideration of its implications for both grieving families and the broader legal system. The potential enactment of the Grieving Families Act underscores the evolving nature of wrongful death litigation and the ongoing effort to align legal remedies with the human experience of loss. As New York State navigates these changes, the legal community must remain attuned to the needs of families seeking solace through the justice system, while also ensuring fairness and equity in the application of the law.

Twice passed by the New York legislature but vetoed both times by the Governor, lawmakers continue to discuss new proposals regarding changes to the state’s more than 170-year-old wrongful death statute. Our office will continue to monitor the progress of the pending legislation.

If you or a loved one perished due to to the negligence of another person, business or organization, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help. It is important to consult with an attorney early to investigate your options, and preserve crucial evidence.  For assistance with these matters, please contact us to learn more.

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About the author: Peter J. Gregory is a partner with MCCM Personal Injury Lawyers in Rochester, NY.  He is a trial lawyer with extensive experience resolving disputes in state and federal trial courts. As a personal injury lawyer, Gregory focuses on advising clients who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents caused by the carelessness or recklessness of others. Please feel free to contact him directly at or (585) 512-3506.

This publication is intended as an information source for clients, prospective clients, and colleagues and constitutes attorney advertising. The content should not be considered legal advice and readers should not act upon information in this publication without individualized professional counsel.

About MCCM

McConville Considine Cooman & Morin, P.C. is a full-service law firm based in Rochester, New York, providing high-quality legal services to businesses and individuals since 1979.  With over a dozen attorneys and a full paralegal support staff, the firm is well-positioned to right-size services tailored to each client. We are large enough to provide expertise in a broad range of practice areas, yet small enough to devote prompt, personal attention to our clients.

We represent a diverse range of clients located throughout New York State and New England.  They include individuals, numerous manufacturing and service industry businesses, local governments, and health care professionals, provider groups, facilities and associations. We also serve as local counsel to out-of-state clients and their attorneys who have litigation pending in Western New York courts.  For more information, please contact us at 585.546.2500.