On Tuesday, May 21, 2019 Partner Edward Steinberg attended the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) Civil Justice Lobby Day in Albany, New York. As President-Elect of NYSTLA, Mr. Steinberg had the opportunity to meet with several New York Senators and Assemblymen to express NYSTLA’s support for five bills that are currently on the 2019-2020 legislative agenda. These bills include The Grieving Families Act, The Fair Claims Resolution Act, a bill updating mandatory insurance coverage limits, a bill fighting forced arbitration, The “Scaffold Safety Sunshine Law,” and The Patient Safety & Patient Privacy Protection Act.
The Grieving Families Act
The Grieving Families Act seeks to provide additional damages to the families of wrongful death victims. Wrongful death lawsuits are claims for money from someone whose negligence caused another’s death.
Under current New York law, which was enacted in 1847, surviving family members are only permitted to recover “pecuniary damages,” or lost income, from the family member who died. The Grieving Families Act would allow families to pursue damages for their pain and suffering, including grief, loss of affection, and loss of counsel.
This legislation is also known as “Zachary’s Law,” in remembrance of toddler Zachary Storms who died after a hospital’s negligent conduct. Two-year-old Zachary was playing with a child’s chemistry kit when his parents realized that he may have ingested some of the dye found on his face and clothes. Zachary’s parents, Craige and Melissa Storms, immediately called the Poison Control Center who advised them to take Zachary to the hospital for observation. At the hospital, the doctor gave Zachary an excessive amount of an activated charcoal solution, although the hospital admission form had included “observe-only” instructions. The child died after ingesting the charcoal solution and Craige and Melissa Storms were left grieving. Since Zachary did not make any money, the hospital could not be held liable for any monetary amount. Additionally, under New York’s wrongful death law, the family was unable to recover for the emotional loss that they had suffered.
Forty-three other states allow for families to recover non-economic damages in cases where the deceased was the victim of negligent or unlawful conduct. This legislation is also supported by numerous New York State courts who have frequently remarked that the current wrongful death law is unjust and outdated.