For over a century and a half, wrongful death lawsuit settlements in New York State were never allowed to consider the emotional impact these deaths had on the family and friends left behind. It is cruel that emotional impact is not considered in a wrongful death lawsuit in New York. As in real life, emotional pain and trauma are very much part of the experience of having a loved one die wrongfully.
Instead, wrongful death settlements have been decided based on the deceased individual’s earning potential. This dollars-and-cents approach is nothing short of harmful to victims on the margins of our society, including older persons who in many cases do not earn significant income other than from Social Security checks. What this means is that – no matter how cruel the death is – if the determination is that there is very little earning potential present, the family does not end up with a large settlement for the death, even if the death is determined to be wrongful.
New York State Senate Bill S74/New York State Assembly Bill A6770, also known as the Grieving Families Act, looks to undo this wrong by at last allowing families of wrongful death victims to get compensation for emotional anguish. This means that those who are involved in causing a wrongful death are held accountable, even if the victim has low income potential.
This is particularly significant for families of loved ones who live in assisted living facilities. Quite frankly, someone who lives in assisted living usually has low income potential. However, if this bill becomes law, then the low income of the victim would no longer be a barrier to the victim’s family getting significant settlements. Also important is that if the bill becomes law, there is an additional (and significant) means through which the entity causing the wrongful death can be held more fully accountable for the actions leading to the wrongful death.
This bill unanimously passed the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate by an overwhelming margin. Now it needs to be delivered to the Governor’s desk and signed by the Governor.