Lawmakers approve wrongful death bill

ALBANY — New York lawmakers have approved legislation stretching the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits to 31/2 years and allowing families to collect monetary damages for the loss of affection and companionship.

The measure, strongly opposed by the insurance industry and a lobby group for businesses, would be the first update of New York’s wrongful death statute in 175 years if signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat.

Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, chairman of the Committee on Aging, said he hopes the legislation will result in health care and long term care facilities improving the quality of care they deliver to their patients.

He said the legislation has the potential to be “game-changing” and “will systematically root out negligence because it mandates our courts to recognize the universal value of life.”

In a bill memo that was circulated to lawmakers, the Business Council of New York warned the legislation will have negative consequences for the state’s business climate.

“There is simply no question that this bill would result in severely increased costs on all New York civil defendants, public and private, who would see costs needlessly increase,” the organization said.

The legislation was promoted by many families who have lost loved ones in automobile wrecks and building fires, including relatives of the 20 people killed in a 2018 limousine crash in Schoharie County and the 17 victims of a blaze in the Bronx last January.

New York’s current law only compensates family’s for the loss of a breadwinner. Supporters of the legislation said the law was antiquated and devalued the lives of children, senior citizens and others who earn little or no income.

The New York Insurance Association, citing an actuarial study, estimates that the legislation has the potential to increase annual overall insurance premiums in New York by $2.2 billion.

For a portion of the COVID-19 pandemic that reached New York in early 2020, health care facilities were given immunity from civil lawsuits through legislation approved by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Legal experts said those immunity protections would remain in place for the periods they covered.

Stephen Hanse, a lawyer who is president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, said the wrongful death legislation “goes well, well beyond health care” and could spawn litigation “in all sorts of contexts.”

The legislation not only allows family members to commence such lawsuits but domestic partners of individuals who died as the result of alleged negligence.

Meanwhile, advocates for nursing home residents said they were pleased lawmakers approved legislation aimed at getting the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program to publicize its annual reports and reveal information about patterns of complaints fielded by its regional offices.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, said having the ombudsman program pull together more information about complaints will be “very useful” in monitoring the nursing homes.

“The main thing the ombudsman is going to need is more money,” Gottfried said. “Right now, this is a program run almost entirely with volunteers. and it does terrific work. But it really ought to have a full-time staff of workers.”


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