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New York's Grieving Families Act: A Second Chance for Justice

New York's Grieving Families Act

The Grieving Families Act was meant to correct a longstanding injustice that has been enshrined in New York's constitution for 176 years. However, the bill suffered a setback in Albany, which led to its failure. The good news is that the Grieving Families Act can and should be given another chance, without changes that would seriously undermine its intent.

The Grieving Families Act aims to amend an 1847 wrongful death statute that determines compensation for a life lost due to a reckless or preventable act according to how much money that person was making at the time. As a result, families who lose children or lose adults who were not earning money cannot be compensated for their losses under New York's current wrongful death law. This means that victims of mass shootings, predominantly people of color, working-class, and over the age of 50, would be considered unworthy of legal compensation.

Grieving Families Act, passed almost unanimously by the New York State Assembly and Senate in June 2022, would have allowed families to seek damages for emotional loss and would have adjusted the definition of family to one that is more in tune with 21st-century life.

New York and Alabama are the only states that do not allow families to sue for grief in court. It is discouraging that Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature could not find a compromise that put some speed bumps on the bill's expanded liability potential without gutting it almost entirely.

Although Hochul cited possible spikes in medical insurance and liability premiums as among her reasons for rejecting the bill, the experience of 40 other states suggests that fears about causing financial havoc in New York's health care industry may be overblown. The criticism of the bill for vagueness in its adjusted definition of family can and should have been effectively addressed without drastic changes or rejecting the bill altogether.

In the end, two factors provide strong support for Hochul's reconsidering this bill and signing it – without lessening the good it can do. The first is the Legislature's overwhelming bipartisan support of the bill's initial passage. The second is New York's embarrassing position of being an outlier – along with Alabama – in not correcting a mistake made by 19th-century bias.

Survivors of tragedies should not have their suffering compounded by a legal injustice that clearly discriminates against children, seniors, women, and people of color. The Grieving Families Act should live to see the dawn of another legislative session, and this time the governor should sign it.

It is not too late for the Grieving Families Act to become law. It is time for New York to correct this injustice and provide justice and closure to families who have suffered unimaginable losses. If you, your family, or your friends have lost a loved one due to the fault of someone please contact one of the attorneys at Georgaklis & Mallas to advise you of your rights.

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