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Grieving families calling on New York state to recognize wrongful death lawsuits based on emotional loss

Grieving families call on New York state to reform wrongful death law
Grieving families call on New York state to reform wrongful death law 02:35

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- Families who have experienced heartbreaking tragedies are calling on lawmakers to reform a New York law that bars wrongful death lawsuits based on a survivor's grief.

Current law puts no monetary value on the life of children, seniors and people who are not big wage-earners.

For Kurt Kiess, grief is daily reality.

"Some days more difficult than others, but there are no easy days," he told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

Last July, his 25-year-old son, Ryan, was one of four young people struck and killed in Quogue. Ryan's girlfriend, Brianna, was critically injured.

Yet, grieving parents cannot sue for emotional distress. Should he prove the road was a known hazard, there will be no damages because Ryan was not supporting anyone.

"I'm sure nobody's life is worth zero, so right now, Ryan's life in New York state is worth zero," Kiess said.

Grieving families across New York are fighting what they call an injustice. Forty-eight other states recognize claims for the emotional loss of a wrongfully killed loved one.

New York's 19th century law compensates a family only for the loss of a breadwinner's income.

"It bakes in all the biases and values of the pre-Civil War era ... The only thing that matters under the law is what was your financial contribution to the family," said Russ Haven, of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

Even if you're a child with a lifetime of earning ahead -- as in the case of Andrew McMorris, the promising young Boy Scout killed by a drunk driver.

"How does that pain and anguish that I go through every day not have any value? ... But yet because he was 12 years old, in the eyes of New York state, they can't quantify what kind of life he would have lived," said Andrew's mother, Alisa McMorris. 

Relatives of the 20 lives lost in the Schoharie limo crash and the 17 killed in the Bronx fire in January are all pushing for change.

"It devalues lives of seniors, of children, of loved ones who don't produce substantial income, and as a result, these wrongdoers are not fully held accountable," Assemblymember Michaelle Solages said.

Among those resisting change are insurance companies that pay out damages.

"Money doesn't replace my son. It holds people accountable for wrongdoing," Kurt Kiess said.

There's just over a week left in the legislative session. Dozens of sponsors are pushing to make this the year Albany delivers accountability to victims of wrongdoing.

The New York Insurance Association released the following statement, saying that the changes will significantly increase the costs of the civil justice system incurred by New York taxpayers:

"A family currently has means to recover beyond economic damages in New York. There is a survivorship cause of action for the decedent's pain and suffering, which provides a legal remedy to obtain non-economic compensation for the loss of a loved one. The expansion currently being proposed would significantly increase the costs of the civil justice system, costs that all New York municipalities and businesses pay with those costs ultimately incurred by New York taxpayers and consumers. An actuarial study estimated that if a bill such as this one were enacted, it would increase annual overall insurance premiums by an estimated $2.2 billion. This dramatic increase would be paid by all New Yorkers and result in additional strain on household budgets through higher insurance premiums, health care costs, taxes and many other necessary goods and services."

Kiess disputes that cost figure and asks, why can other states afford to do it?

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