Today, the State Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees passed a bill recognizing that a spouse, child, or parent can recover for their anguish, comfort, and companionship when a loved one dies due to another person’s negligence. I have lobbied for the passage of this bill for the past eight years. It has been nicknamed “the grieving families act.”
The Grieving Families Act Enables Families to be Compensated
New York State is currently in a minority of states who refuse to recognize that a spouse, child, or parent of a person who died can sue for their grief and loss of companionship of the decedent. New York State only allows the recovery of “pecuniary” damages. This means that the family can only recover the money the deceased person would have earned if they had lived. This creates an inequity in the law because the life of a child, a stay-at-home parent, or an elderly person is technically worth zero because they did not contribute financially to the household before their death.
This law hits a very personal issue for me. When I was 25, my father died in a motor vehicle accident. He was 49 years old. His death was instantaneous. At the time, he was between jobs. He had recently quit his job to look for a better opportunity. My mother consulted with an attorney. They explained that conscious pain and suffering were not damages. Her grief and the grief of her children were not recognized. She could only recover his economic contribution to the family. The attorney further told her that because he was between jobs and did not have the best work history, the insurance carrier would argue that his financial contribution would be minimal.
Was My Father’s Life “Technically Worthless?”
I was in law school at the time. My whole family came to me to explain how my father’s life was technically worthless. I read the law and explained to my grandparents, mother, and brother that the attorney was correct. My family was in shock by this realization.
Since then, I have had to explain this law to other families who lost children, wives, and elderly parents. It has never gotten easier to tell a grieving family that the life of this relative is not worth anything because they did not contribute financially to the household.
If this law passes the Senate and the Assembly and is signed by the Governor, it will right an injustice that has occurred way too many times in New York State. I will do everything I can to continue educating our elected officials about the current injustice and hope we can get this done.