Like many states, New York has a statute that permits survivors of a person killed by the wrongful act of another to sue for damages. Unlike many states, New York’s wrongful death statute does not allow these survivors to seek damages for lost companionship caused by the death of the loved one. A dedicated alliance of survivors and consumer groups has joined forces at the state Assembly to work for the passage of what is called the “Grieving Families Act.”
The proposed legislation
In 2018, four sisters were killed in a limousine crash near Schoharie, N.Y. The accident was blamed on the failure of the limousine owner to properly maintain the vehicle. Their family commenced a wrongful death action against the limousine owners, but they were prevented from seeking damages for lost companionship and affection due to the curious working of the New York statute that governed their case.
The family has now requested the New York Assembly to pass the Grieving Families Act to permit survivors to seek damages for loss of affection and companionship.
Their effort is strongly supported by a strong consumer-rights group, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). NYPIRG has said that New York’s wrongful death statute is one of only a handful of such statutes in the country that does not allow the survivors to seek damages for loss of affection and companionship.
According to NYPIRG’s legislative counsel, the New York wrongful death statute dates from the state’s earliest days, when the husband was a family’s sole breadwinner. The original wrongful death law was tilted in favor of families that had lost their basic means of economic support. Emotional support and companionship were not recognized as compensable elements of a family’s loss.
One of the legislative sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Helene Weinstein, said that the current New York law “has a disproportionate effect upon women, children and senior citizens” by omitting damages for loss of affection and companionship.
Helpful advice from an accident attorney
The fate of the pending legislation is uncertain. If the current law should be amended, wrongful death claims will be able to recover additional damages for survivors’ emotional loss. An experienced accident attorney will be able to offer advice on the effect of any such changes.