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Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoes Grieving Families Act, but families of victims of fatal tragedies aren't giving up

New Yorkers disappointed by Hochul's veto of Grieving Families Act
New Yorkers disappointed by Hochul's veto of Grieving Families Act 02:31

MINEOLA, N.Y. - Families of victims of fatal tragedies say they are disappointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul's veto of the Grieving Families Act, but they are not giving up. 

It would have allowed victims to sue wrongdoers for emotional suffering. 

Current law puts no monetary value on lives lost to negligence if they are not wage earners. 

"There's no easy days," said Kurt Kiess. 

His grief is immeasurable, after losing his son Ryan. Ryan was one of four young people killed last year by a speeding driver in Quogue. 

Now there's also disappointment after Hochul vetoed a bill Kurt Kiess helped champion. It had passed with bipartisan support. 

"She really didn't meet with any grieving families, and really at the end, she was very unsympathetic to our cause," he said. "Right now, it seems money beat morality."

New York would have joined 41 states that allow loved ones to sue for emotional losses in cases of negligence. The current, archaic law compensates a family only for the loss of a breadwinner's income. 

"If somebody runs a red light and kills a senior citizen who's retired, who wants to say that family is not entitled to compensation, that life is not worth anything, because she is not an earning any money?" said Jeffrey Bloom of New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

Hochul explained in an op-ed she knows "valuing lives based on earning potential" is unfair, but cited "unintended consequences" on the economy that "will drive up already high health insurance premiums." 

New York's Medical Society predicted malpractice insurance would spike more than 40%. 

"We absolutely want to support the grieving family, but the bill in current format will definitely hurt every one of us, and particularly the physicians," said Dr. Parag Mehta, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. 

Bobbi Koval's son was killed by a reckless driver and yet she couldn't claim any damages under the current law. 

"I don't understand how this could possibly impact New York state's economy. What we are looking for as grieving families is an opportunity to hold people accountable and have justice," Koval said. 

Families of victims say they'll work to amend the law and have it reintroduced, adding they cannot allow a law to stand that places value only on some people's lives.

Hochul has suggested amending the bill so that it exempts costly medical malpractice from these wrongful death claims. 

New York is one of just three states that does not allow awards for grief and mental anguish caused by wrongdoers. 

New York State Trial Lawyers Association and partner at Rappaport, Glass, Levine & Zullo LLP, put out the following statement in response:

By vetoing the Grieving Families Act, Governor Hochul has sided with insurance companies, the healthcare industry, big corporations, and anyone else who doesn't want to be held accountable for the negligent killing of a person. This bill passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support and would rectify over a century of injustice.

Governor Hochul has turned her back on the people who deserve the opportunity to seek justice the most. Until it is changed, the wrongful death statute will continue to deliver uneven justice for communities of color, women, children, seniors, people with disabilities, and those with low incomes. In the 2023 legislative session, we will continue the fight to change this law and give New York families the dignity and justice they deserve.

NYSTLA would like to thank bill sponsors Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein, the New York State legislature as a whole for their tireless advocacy on behalf of everyday New Yorkers, and the countless families and advocates around the state who shared personal stories in the hopes that Governor Hochul might listen. Unfortunately, she did not.

Mehta and the Medical Society of the State of New York released this statement: 

The physicians of New York state are grateful to Governor Hochul for her careful consideration of the legislation to greatly expand the awards in actions for wrongful death. As Governor Hochul accurately noted in her op-ed in the New York Daily News, 'the unintended consequences of this far-reaching, expansive legislation would be significant, particularly for our already struggling health care system.'

MSSNY stands ready to work with the Governor and the Legislature on revised legislation that would ensure legal remedies for grieving families, but at the same time protect the ability of New York's physicians, hospitals, and other health care workers to continue to deliver the care our patients expect and deserve.  We cannot do that if we substantially increase our already enormous liability insurance costs, which already exponentially exceed every other state in the country. These costs would disproportionately impact physicians working in underserved communities.

New York has a reputation for a world class healthcare system, but also a reputation for being one of the worst states in the country in which to be a physician.  We must take steps to ensure that we can retain and attract skilled physicians to our state to best serve the healthcare needs of our patients.

Again, we thank Governor Hochul for putting patients first and protecting the healthcare needs of every New Yorker by calling for a more scaled back version of this legislation.

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