Third Time’s The Charm? Grieving Families Act Passes Legislature Again

In May 2023, 14-year-old Ethan Falkowitz was tragically killed by an alleged drunk driver speeding the wrong way on Long Island’s Jericho Turnpike. His grieving parents now face a harsh reality under New York’s antiquated wrongful death law; they can only seek damages for financial losses like funeral expenses—not for the immeasurable grief and emotional suffering caused by the wrongful death of their son.

Ethan’s story is just one of many shining light on the archaic wrongful death laws still in practice in New York.

Now that The Grieving Families Act has passed the Assembly and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support for the third time[1], it is time for Governor Hochul to sign this bill and put an end to New York’s antiquated wrongful death laws.

We cannot accept a third veto. Read on to understand why this legislation must be passed now.

The Impact of New York’s Regressive Wrongful Death Laws

New York’s wrongful death statute, stagnant since 1847, is one of the nation’s most outdated, valuing lives solely based on economic contributions. Every state except New York, Delaware, and Alabama account for the emotional toll of losing a loved one in their wrongful death laws[2].

Not only do these archaic wrongful death laws undermine the value of human life, but assessing this value by proxy of the decedent’s financial contributions creates an uneven playing field for surviving family members. In the current state, family members of a child, elderly or retired parent, or low-wage earner would likely be compensated for less compared to the family of a middle-aged or high-income decedent.

Ethan was just a teenager when his life was unexpectedly taken—how can the value of his life be minimized to financial contributions when he never had the chance to even graduate from high school?

The New York legislature has already passed the Grieving Families Act twice, only to have Governor Kathy Hochul veto it due to concerns over economic impact, specifically in the insurance and healthcare industries. Criticism of the bill focuses on the potential impact of higher damages on insurance premiums, which could increase strain on hospitals and small businesses[3].

This argument overlooks the fact that wrongful death laws have already been modernized in every state except New York, Delaware, and Alabama. If economic impact were a threat, every hospital and insurance company in forty-seven states would be broke or out of business. This rationale is untenable.

We must stop prioritizing economic interests and give New York’s grieving families the compassion and compensation they deserve. Passing The Grieving Families Act will ensure the full scope of loss is recognized and allow families to seek damages they deserve.

The Time is Now

2024 must be the year the Grieving Families Act becomes law.

Grief is immeasurable, and Ethan’s life was valuable. Allowing a law that has been stagnant since before the Civil War to define the value of a child’s life is unacceptable. Let a jury decide what this promising young teenager’s life is worth.

The time has come for New York to embrace this long-overdue change, and USClaims will continue advocating for The Grieving Families Act. We urge Governor Hochul to swiftly approve this third attempt at legislation.

Families like Ethan’s deserve better.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are our own and should not be considered legal advice.

Resources

  1. Justin, Raga. “Grieving Families Act Passes Third Year in a Row, Irking Critics.” Times Union, www.timesunion.com/capitol/article/grieving-families-act-passes-third-year-row-19498713.php.
  2. ‌“Hochul’s Veto Upsets Families Seeking to Change State’s Wrongful Death Statute.” Newsday, 8 Jan. 2024, www.newsday.com/long-island/hochul-veto-wrongful-death-law-new-york-emotional-compensation-gafk477e.
  3. “Hochul Vetoes Grieving Families Act Just Before Deadline.” Times Union, 31 Jan. 2023, www.timesunion.com/state/article/hochul-vetoes-grieving-families-act-deadline-17753341.php.

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