Why New York Needs the Grieving Families Act

When someone you love dies because of another’s party negligence, it can feel as if your entire world has been shattered. While still reeling from the shock and pain of your loved one’s death, you will have to cope with grief and the financial consequences of your loss. Anyone in this situation should be able to recover equitable relief. However, if a wrongful death victim died in New York, those closest to them may not be able to recover damages. Further, those allowed to recover will not be compensated for the full extent of their loss. Why? Because New York’s wrongful death laws fail to protect those most harmed when a loved one is taken due to negligence. Here is more on why New York’s wrongful death laws need to be changed.


What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when a person is killed due to a wrongful act or another’s negligence. Under the law, when someone dies in this manner, their surviving loved ones may be able to recover damages for their loss. In New York, the law allows a decedent’s personal representative to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of certain close family members.


New York’s Wrongful Death Damages

New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law § 5-4.3 states that the measure of damages awarded in a wrongful death action should be the “fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent’s death to the persons for whose benefit the action is brought.”

Wrongful death pecuniary (economic) damages include lost wages, medical expenses, loss of support services. When determining wrongful death pecuniary damages,, factors such as the decedent’s age, their health and life expectancy, their work, their future earning capacity and potential career advancement, and the age and life expectancy of the distributes, and support that the decedent could have provided as a parent can be considered.

To determine what is fair and just compensation, the court will consider “the reasonable expenses of medical aid, nursing and attention incident to the injury-causing death” and any funeral expenses paid by the decedent’s heirs “in addition to every other lawful element.” Under some circumstances, punitive (punishment) damages may be awarded “if such damages would have been recoverable had the decedent survived.”


What’s Wrong With New York’s Wrongful Death Laws?

New York’s current wrongful death law fails to account for the entirety of the loss a victim’s family members will experience when there has been a wrongful death. First, the law severely limits the damages an injured party can pursue in a wrongful death action to pecuniary (financial) loss. However, when someone dies because of another’s negligence, their loved one’s damages usually encompass far more than monetary losses. Second, under the law, recovery is often restricted to immediate family members. This limitation excludes those who are close to the victim but don’t meet the narrow definition of immediate family.


The Grieving Families Act

New York’s wrongful death law originated in and has changed very little since the late 1800s. This woefully inadequate statute was drafted for another population in a different century. As such, it was not designed to meet the needs of New York’s modern citizenry. Due to its insufficiencies, amendments are being proposed to address the wrongful death statute’s missing damages and lack of inclusion.

Specifically, the Grieving Families Act proposes to amend New York’s Estates, Powers, and Trusts (Wrongful Death) law § 5-4.3 by adding language that:


  • Extends the time permitted to bring a wrongful death action by one year and six months,
  • Permits recovery of damages for emotional loss when a party is found liable for causing a death,
  • Allows close family members to receive compensation for their non-economic loss,
  • Expands the definition of close family members; and
  • Replace “distributes” with “persons for whose benefit the action is brought.”


As it stands, close loved ones may be excluded from wrongful death recovery. Further, those who can seek damages will never be compensated for what they have actually lost. In addition to these defects, the current law blatantly devalues the lives of those who don’t earn significant incomes.


Loss due to negligence and wrongful death is devastating. Those impacted deserve the right to hold the responsible party accountable and seek meaningful damages. Wrongful death laws exist to protect those who have lost their loved ones due to negligence. They should not to act as a barrier to recovery. The Grieving Families Act can make necessary changes to modernize New York’s wrongful death laws. The Act could also help provide the victim’s close family members with a pathway to comprehensive and equitable relief.


If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party, it’s essential that you understand your rights under the law. At Bonina & Bonina, P.C., we are compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys who can help. We understand what you and your family are going through and can assist you with your wrongful death case.


Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one died due to someone’s negligence, you should schedule a free consultation with the experienced attorneys at Bonina & Bonina, P.C.  Call us at 1888-MEDLAW1 or contact us online for a free consultation. We have decades of experience helping clients injured by negligence, and we can explain your options and help you decide what actions you should take. At Bonina & Bonina, P.C., we come to work every day believing that there should be equal justice for all. Se habla espaňol. Home and hospital visits are available.