New York State

Hochul vetoes Grieving Families Act for second time this year

Assembly Member Helene Weinstein and state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal saw their bill rejected despite making significant changes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said in her veto memo that the bill still had “significant unintended consequences.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul said in her veto memo that the bill still had “significant unintended consequences.” Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

For the second time, Gov. Kathy Hochul has vetoed long-sought legislation that would amend the state’s outdated wrongful death laws to allow victims’ families to seek damages for pain and suffering. Currently, they can only sue for compensation related to lost wages.

In a veto memo for the Grieving Families Act, Hochul wrote that the Legislature “once again passed a bill that does not create the requisite balance and again introduces the potential for significant unintended consequences.” She cited “legitimate concerns” raised to her that the legislation would result in increased insurance premiums for most people and “risk the financial well-being” of health care facilities in the state. Hochul said she remained committed to finding a solution to the issue of updating the state’s 176-year-old wrongful death statute.

Hochul previously vetoed a version of the bill that lawmakers passed last year. In response to that decision, bill sponsors state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein made numerous changes to the legislation meant to address concerns that the governor had raised. They included narrowing the definition of a close family member, who would be eligible for damages and removing language that would have made the law apply retroactively. But even with the changes, business groups continued to oppose the legislation on economic grounds, charging that it would place new financial burdens on small businesses and would increase health care premiums.

Hochul said she proposed compromises that would help family members of those who died in wrongful death cases, while still “providing certainty for consumers and businesses,” though she did not provide any specifics on what she suggested. Last year, Hochul said that she attempted to compromise with lawmakers before she vetoed the bill, a compromise she said they rejected. This year, the governor did not mention that New York remains one of the few states that has not updated its laws to value lost relationships and allow family members to seek emotional damages in wrongful death lawsuits.

Advocates for the legislation criticized Hochul’s decision to once again veto it. “With this veto, she is denying victims their day in court, making it more advantageous to kill than to injure, and putting corporate profits over patient safety,” New York State Trial Lawyers Association President David Scher said in a statement. “This veto is an abject failure of leadership to grasp the impact of grief on loved ones, from young children who have lost a parent, to parents who have lost a child, to the families of victims of gun violence, to expectant families and communities of color.”