City Joins Business, Medical Groups in Lobbying Against Grieving Families Act Backed by Hoylman-Sigal

The Grieving Families Act would allow family members to file wrongful death lawsuits for non-financial loss, including the infliction of grief and anguish. The bill passed the state legislature in June and awaits Gov. Hochul’s signature or veto.

| 24 Nov 2023 | 04:21

New York City has joined an expanding chorus of local governments, businesses, and medical groups urging Governor Kathy Hochul to veto a bill that would expand the compensable damages to surviving family in wrongful death lawsuits. Hochul already vetoed a version of the Grieving Families Act in January, citing its potential to raise liability insurance costs and hurt small businesses. The current, more limited version’s sponsors, including Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, have since expressed confidence that their differences with the governor are now resolved. Other critics of the bill remain unmoved.

While the state’s current, 175-year-old wrongful death statute is centered on the damages sustained from financial loss, the Grieving Families Act would amend the statute to also acknowledge the emotional and psychological toll of tragedy. Under the proposed law, family members would be allowed to recover damages for grief or anguish, loss of companionship, and loss of nurture, guidance, and counsel.

“We’ve denied countless family members the proper consideration for their loved ones since the current statute considers only economic loss,” said Hoylman-Sigal. “Courts are forced to discount the value of lives in wrongful death actions for those who aren’t breadwinners for their families, resulting in a disproportionate negative impact on people of color, women, children, seniors, and New Yorkers with disabilities.”

Opponents maintain that even with the now-reduced scope of the bill, it would drive up insurance costs and put further strain on local government budgets. The oft-cited Millman Report, an actuarial study prepared by a research nonprofit called the New York Civil Justice Institute, estimates that the Grieving Families Act could increase liability premiums by as much as $2.2 billion annually. The New York Civil Justice Institute, which labels itself a “non-partisan research organization,” is an official research arm of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, itself a “broad-based coalition of hardworking New York business leaders, professionals, and consumers who are committed to changing New York’s burdensome and expensive legal system to help create more jobs and energize our state’s economy.”

Holyman-Sigal dismissed the Institute as a “phony group” that “exists solely to crank out propaganda for the insurance industry.” He also theorized that the insurance industry is pressuring city governments to echo their own positions and statements.

And they are putting the governor on notice; after the bill passed, more than 30 industry groups across New York sent a letter to Hochul asking her to wield her veto pen. “As we seek to recover from the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, we must pursue policies that help, rather than harm, the state’s business community,” they wrote. “New York cannot afford to adopt new laws that drain our public coffers, discourage entrepreneurship, and stifle economic activity.”

The Business Council of New York, Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State, the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, and the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York all put their names on the letter. The New York City Mayor’s Office of State Legislative Affairs filed a separate memorandum opposing the Grieving Families Act, just as they did in 2021 and 2022. City officials did not respond to calls for comment from Straus News on their latest move to oppose the revised bill.

Holyman-Sigal told Straus News that he was, until now, unaware that the City had come out against the legislation. “They didn’t speak to the sponsors for an explanation,” he said. “I don’t know what clout the city has in Albany these days. But this administration has its hands full. They should be focused on building more housing, supporting mass transit, providing new funding for libraries and the arts, rather than denying compensation from families of loved ones who have been wrongfully killed.”

The current version of the Grieving Families Act, sponsored by Hoylman-Sigal in the Senate and by Assemblymember Helene Weinstein the lower house, passed the state legislature in June. Both have made changes to meet Hochul in the middle, such as by setting the time permitted to bring a wrongful death statute to three years—six months less than in the previous bill. Hochul, for her part, has not given clear signals about her intentions.