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Governor Hochul Vetos the Greiving Families Act


Release from the New York State Trial Lawyers Association on the Greiving Families Act, Fiedler Deutsch stands with NYSTLA in the continued fight for families:

Today, Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act (“GFA”), a bill that passed both houses of the New York State Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. This veto denies the families of  people of color, immigrants, seniors, non-working women or children the opportunity available in 48 other states to seek justice and to be valued equally when they die. The Governor chose to ignore these victims to protect the interests of negligent and intentional wrongdoers who cause death.

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.

When a person is killed by wrongdoers through negligence or an intentional act, New York compensates surviving family members based on the income of the deceased – and not the grief and anguish of the family. It is universally accepted that victims of wrongful death who are people of color, women, seniors, new Americans and others typically receive less compensation for the loss of their loved ones than families of white and/or male victims. After years of advocacy on behalf of grieving families, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the legislature passed the GFA to ensure that New York no longer short-changed families of disadvantaged victims.

The Governor’s veto of the GFA is purportedly based on fears of substantial increased premiums and costs on insurers, hospitals, and medical providers. These concerns arose on the basis of a false, disingenuous and discredited “study” produced by big insurance companies and the New York hospital industry. The study was produced by Milliman, Inc., a well known hired gun for the tort reform lobby that has been exposed for producing biased, rigged, and incorrect “studies” wrongly predicting increased costs from civil justice reforms.

The Governor never should have given the Milliman study credence. Nonetheless, NYSTLA commissioned a detailed report from an independent actuary that debunked the phony cost assessments conjured up by the insurance and hospital industries.

NYSTLA also provided the Governor with a detailed analysis showing that the small number of cases filed annually in New York alleging a wrongful death belies any contention that the GFA could negatively impact insurance premiums and hospitals.

The Governor’s office never disputed any of the facts, data or analysis provided by NYSTLA, and was well aware that the opponents’ claims were false and devoid of any factual basis. Despite this, the Governor took the side of wrongdoers over their victims.

The Governor’s office refused to engage in good faith negotiation with the legislature. Reforming New York’s 1847 wrongful death legislation has been a decades-long process; bills have been introduced and debated, studied, and crafted for decades. The Governor failed to work with legislature to make amendments that would preserve the intent and integrity of the bill. Since its passage, the Governor had 8 months to work with the Legislature to get it done. The Governor chose not to.

The Governor’s proposal gutted the bill. The only proposal that was put forward would provide for “filiation damages” for children under the age of 18. The Legislature rejected the Governor’s proposal. The Governor turned her back on the families of those wrongfully killed.

Among those whom the Governor turned her back on are: people of color, new Americans, seniors, non-working women, and children. The Legislature would not walk away from all of the New Yorkers who have been the victims of wrongdoing and have lost loved ones. To this point, last week, the New York Times ran a story on maternal death caused by negligence. These families are entitled to more than thoughts and prayers.

For the last several months, a coalition in support of the GFA worked tirelessly on letters to the Governor, publicizing victims’ stories, editorials, op-eds, and strong advocacy. The coalition included the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, the AARP, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Families for Safe Streets, the NAACP, the American Association for Justice, and many others.

NYSTLA especially wants to thank bill sponsors Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Attorney General Letitia James, and the New York State Legislature for understanding the importance of the GFA, and for their compassion for all New Yorkers. Most importantly, NYSTLA wants to thank the grieving families who shared their anguish in the hope that Governor Hochul would feel their pain and afford them justice: She did not.

The New York State Trial Lawyers Association remains fully committed to this cause, and plans to continue advocating on behalf of grieving families and working closely with its coalition partners until equal access to justice has been achieved.