Update: New York Gov. Hochul Seeks to Exclude Medical Malpractice From Wrongful Death Damages Bill

January 30, 2023
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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will not sign the measure on her desk that seeks to expand wrongful death damages as it is written. Instead, she wants lawmakers to amend the bill to exempt medical malpractice claims from the changes that would be made to existing law.

Hochul announced her position on the Grieving Families Act in an editorial in the New York Daily News ahead of tonight’s midnight deadline for action.

She indicated that if lawmakers do not agree to her suggested amendment, the measure will expire due to inaction.

While current New York law basically limits recovery in wrongful death cases to a decedent’s close family members and for pecuniary or tangible monetary damages only, the legislation (A.6770/S.74A) would mark a substantial departure by allowing recovery for emotional damages including grief or anguish and loss of affection and companionship. The bill would also enlarge the list of family members who could sue to include spouses and domestic partners, as well as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents and siblings. A jury could define who is a close family member.

Her proposal would keep the changes proposed for wrongful death cases involving accidents while excluding medical malpractice “for the time being.”

Businesses including insurers and health care firms oppose the measure, warning the change could mean higher liability insurance costs for drivers and businesses.

Advocates for victims claim the change would bring the state in line with other states’ damages statutes and is long overdue.

For more on the legislation, read Insurance Journal here:

Today Is Deadline for New York Gov. Hochul to Decide on Bill to Expand Wrongful Death Damages

Hochul’s editorial in today’s New York Daily News released by her office is below:

There has been much discussion about the merits of changing New York’s wrongful death statute, first enacted in 1847. The law today allows individuals to recover monetary damages for the loss of a loved one, measured in economic impact, without compensating for the emotional toll.

As a parent, I know how precious our children are to us, and I know how devastating it must be for a family to learn that under New York law the life of their child is less valuable than someone older who earns a salary. I also recognize that the law as it currently stands, valuing lives based on earning potential, reinforces historic patterns of structural inequity and racism. This is one of many areas of unfairness that remain in our legal system, we must never give up on the important work of making needed change.

I have heard the painful stories from many families of children lost in devastating accidents, who simply want justice and to know that the life of their child has value in the eyes of the law. And I agree with them.

The question is how. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill, the Grieving Families Act, that would effectuate a complete overhaul of the wrongful death framework. It would dramatically expand beneficiaries, categories of damages, and the statute of limitations.

Experts have highlighted concerns that the unintended consequences of this far-reaching, expansive legislation would be significant. It is reasonable to think that the legislation as drafted will drive up already-high health insurance premiums, adding significant costs for many sectors of our economy, particularly hospitals that are still recovering from the pandemic and struggling to stay afloat — including public hospitals that serve disadvantaged communities. This is a question that would benefit from careful analysis before, not after, passing sweeping legislation.

This bill passed at the very end of the legislative session; the bill was approved in committee and voted on by both the Assembly and Senate, in full, on the very same day. What was missing was a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the state’s complex health care system.

This is an incredibly emotional and complex issue, and one that must be handled with thoughtfulness and balance: our goal must be to deliver justice for grieving families without sending the economy into distress.

I believe that families who have lost loved ones unjustly should be able to receive meaningful compensation, and want to do the hard work necessary to find solutions that strike the right balance. As a first step, I have suggested to the Legislature that we amend the legislation and sign into a law a version that would give parents of children who have tragically died in accidents the opportunity to seek meaningful accountability for their heart-wrenching loss while, for the time being, exempting far more costly medical malpractice claims.

This approach recognizes that expanding the wrongful death framework must be done in a methodical, smart way. It would give us time to look at data and grapple with complex issues, such as our state’s unique constitutional prohibition against limits on damages.

Regardless of whether the Legislature agrees we should take some first steps toward expanding access to justice, the impacts of changing the wrongful death law in New York, looking at empirical data and the experiences of other states, should be analyzed. This will help ensure we have the information we are lacking now as we evaluate any more significant expansions to the law.

We must fully understand the impacts of potential changes on small businesses, families, doctors and nurses, struggling hospitals in underserved communities, and the overall economy to ensure that undesired consequences don’t overshadow the good we can do for grieving families.

With no agreement to the fair proposal my administration made a month ago, there is a risk that the time will expire for action by midnight tonight. And that would be just one more insult to the grieving families that are looking to us to do the right thing.

I urge the Legislature to join me in taking a meaningful step forward so that parents who are grieving the loss of their children from accidents can finally receive justice they have been denied for the last 176 years.

Topics New York Medical Professional Liability

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Latest Comments

  • February 1, 2023 at 7:28 am
    Tom Murin says:
    "Ins cos generally look for ways to raise premiums, whether the numbers actually justify it or not." NY has a very strong insurance dept. You should be aware of that if you're... read more
  • January 31, 2023 at 7:00 pm
    Robert says:
    Expanding the universe of possible claimants to the family members mentioned, is rational. Those encompass the class of people that are likely to suffer loss. Just because one... read more
  • January 30, 2023 at 6:43 pm
    Tom Murin says:
    "could mean higher liability insurance costs....? It WILL increase liability insurance costs. Any time you increase the number of parties that can collect - it is going to cos... read more

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