Front entrance to the New York State Capital Building located in Albany, NY
New York State Capital Building in Albany, NY. (Credit: Xprtshot / Getty Images)

A bill extending the statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims and expanding those who can recover damages was passed by the New York legislature and is awaiting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) signature or veto.

Known as the Grieving Families Act, S74A, the statute updates an existing law by expanding compensable damages to include loss of affection and companionship. The law, if signed, also would permit “close family members” — including spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, grandparents, step parents and siblings — to recover emotional damages. 

If signed, the law would take effect immediately and apply to all pending actions as well as those filed on or after the date the law goes into effect.

Critics say that the statute will add plaintiffs to lawsuits and increase litigation costs, settlement demands and verdicts. Supporters said the existing law was antiquated and “devalued the lives of children, seniors, people of color and women.”

New York State Health Facilities Association / New York State Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Stephen Hanse said that NYSHFA / NYSCAL has “real concerns” about the legislation, which he described as broad and vague and could affect all employers in the state.

“It wasn’t directed at healthcare, but it has real implications for all businesses in New York state, including healthcare providers, hospitals, nursing homes, adult homes, etc.,” Hanse told McKnight’s Senior Living. Operating and insurance costs could increase, he said.

Hanse said the bill adds grief and anguish to the types of damage claims that can be sought in a wrongful death suit, expands the class of people who can recover those claims to “close family members” and extends the statute of limitations on claims from two year to 3.5 years.

It remains unclear whether the governor will sign or veto the bill, he said.

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) chairman of the state body’s Committee on Aging, said that the legislation has the potential to be “game changing” and that he hopes the bill will result in long-term care and healthcare facilities improving the quality of care they deliver.

According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, 47 states allow wrongful death claims for the loss of the relationship with a loved one, and 20 states recognize claims for the grief and mental anguish resulting from a wrongful death. NYPIRG found that only Alabama and New York allow neither.

The bill, if adopted, would be the first update to the pre-Civil War era wrongful death statute in 175 years.

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