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State Senate and the Assembly Judiciary Committee Pass “Grieving Families Act”

by Halina Radchenko

Today the State Senate and State Assembly Judiciary Committees passed a bill which recognizes that a spouse, child, or parent can recover for their anguish, comfort, and companionship when a loved one dies as a result of 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”.

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. Currently, New York State only allows the recovery of “pecuniary” damages, which 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 prior to their death.

This law hits a very personal issue for me. When I was 25 years old, my father passed away 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 went to consult with an attorney who explained that because conscious pain and suffering was not a category of damages, and her grief and the grief of her children was not recognized, she could only recover his economic contribution to the family. The attorney further told her that because he was in between jobs and did not have the best work history, the insurance carrier would argue that his financial contribution would be very minimal.

I was in law school at the time. My whole family came to me to explain how is it that my father’s life was technically worthless. I read the law as it stands today and had to explain to my grandparents, my mother, and my brother that the attorney was correct. My family was in shock by this realization.

Since that time, 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 in my power to continue and educate our elected officials about the current injustice and hope that we can get this done.

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