Personal injury laws are designed to protect individuals who have suffered harm or injury due to the negligence or wrongdoing of others. These laws ensure that victims receive compensation for their injuries and other related damages. In the state of New York, personal injury laws have recently undergone significant changes. Here are the key updates and their implications.
The Grieving Families Act
An amended version of the Grieving Families Act was reintroduced into the New York State Legislature following Governor Hochul’s January 2023 veto. The amended bill will:
- Extend the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims from two years to three years from the date of the deceased’s death.
- Allows the following damages to be recovered:
- Reasonable funeral expenses;
- Reasonable expenses for medical care incident to the injury causing death;
- Grief or anguish (pain and suffering and emotional distress) caused by the decedent’s death in addition to the existing damages;
- Defines “surviving close family members” as the deceased victim’s spouse or domestic partner, issue, foster-children, step-children, and step-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, step-parents, step-grandparents, siblings, or any person standing in loco parentis to the decedent for the purpose of distributing damages.
- Allows a jury to decide who is considered a “close family member” of the deceased based on the specific circumstances of their relationship, therefore, entitling them to damages.
If the Grieving Families Act is signed into law, it will take effect immediately and will apply to all wrongful death cases involving a deceased victim who died on or after July 1, 2018.
Assembly Bill A654 has been introduced to amend insurance law and permit liability policies to provide coverage for punitive damages, civil penalties, and other non-compensatory damages. Let’s break down what each term represents:
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are monetary awards that go beyond compensating the injured party for their losses. They are intended to punish the defendant for their wrongful actions and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Punitive damages are often awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct is considered particularly egregious or malicious. Liability policies do not currently cover punitive damages, as they are meant to punish the wrongdoer rather than compensate the victim.
- Civil Penalties: Civil penalties are fines or monetary sanctions imposed by a court or regulatory agency as a result of a violation of law or regulations. These penalties are not compensatory in nature, as they are not meant to reimburse the victim for their losses but rather to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing. If liability policies include coverage for civil penalties, it means that the policyholder will be protected financially if they are subject to such penalties.
- Non-Compensatory Damages: Non-compensatory damages refer to any other type of damages not specifically aimed at compensating the victim for their losses. This can include exemplary damages, nominal damages, statutory damages, or any other form of damages that do not directly correspond to the actual harm suffered by the victim. If a liability policy covers non-compensatory damages, the policy extends its coverage beyond compensatory awards.
If insurance does not cover punitive damages, the defendant is personally responsible for paying punitive damages out of their own assets or income. Therefore, the ability to collect punitive damages can depend on the defendant’s financial situation. If the defendant does not have sufficient assets or income to cover the awarded punitive damages, it may be challenging for the plaintiff (injury victim) to collect the full amount. In some cases, negotiation or a structured payment plan may be required to satisfy the punitive damages award. If Assembly Bill A654 becomes legislation, insurance companies can be responsible for paying the punitive damages on behalf of the insured up to the limits specified in the policy.
The recent and potential changes to New York’s personal injury laws bring significant shifts in the legal landscape, expanding the rights of victims and survivors while offering them greater opportunities for compensation. Court decisions play an important role in shaping personal injury laws. When higher courts issue rulings that interpret existing laws in a new way or establish new legal principles, it can prompt legislative action to codify or modify those principles.
For further information and questions on how these changes and potential laws specifically impact your personal injury claim, arrange a free consultation with a trusted Westchester County Personal Injury Attorney today.