Endorsement of the Grieving Families Act (S6636/A6698)
October 31, 2023
The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS Capitol Building Albany, NY 12224
Re: Endorsement of the Grieving Families Act (S6636/A6698)
Dear Governor Hochul,
We, the undersigned members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus, extend our wholehearted endorsement of the Grieving Families Act (S.6636/A.6698), which has been passionately advocated for by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein.
As Black women, we see the impacts of injustices perpetuated by New York’s current wrongful death law. The current law traces its origins to 1847 when New York insurance companies profited from insuring enslavers against the loss of their human property. In that year, New York’s wrongful death statute was enacted, and this same statute remains in effect today. It casts a dark shadow on our state’s history.
This groundbreaking legislation endeavors to rectify the injustices perpetuated by New York’s current wrongful death law. This law unjustly devalues the lives of women and individuals from diverse racial backgrounds. The Grieving Families Act is a response to the unfair statute that reinforces historical structural inequities and racial biases.
During October, as we commemorate Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, we unite in remembrance and support for those who suffer the loss of pregnancies, stillbirths, and young children. It is deeply disheartening that the CDC reports a mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black infants that is 2.4 times higher than that of non-Hispanic white infants before their first birthday. Our hearts go out to the families affected by this tragic reality. Additionally, we mourn those who lose their lives during childbirth and as a result of pregnancy-related complications, all while keeping in mind the CDC’s sobering statistic that Black women in the United States face a threefold higher risk of maternal mortality compared to their white counterparts. This glaring inequality demands our immediate attention.
The Maternal Mortality Review Committees have revealed that over 80 percent of maternal deaths could have been prevented. Structural inequity and implicit biases contribute to patterns of substandard care, misdiagnosis, medical errors, and communication breakdowns that disproportionately affect women of color, causing undue suffering and far too many fatalities.
New York and Alabama stand as the only two states still burdened with antiquated laws that prevent jurors from considering the grief and suffering of bereaved families in wrongful death cases. The existing law is not only outdated but also inhumane, as it was written 176 years ago. It solely takes into account economic loss, resulting in the unjust devaluation of the lives of numerous individuals, including people of color, women, children, seniors, and New Yorkers with disabilities. The persistence of this grievous law in the proud and progressive State of New York in 2023 is excessive.
Other States that have implemented similar laws have witnessed a decrease in medical malpractice insurance premiums and the number of malpractice claims filed. The truth is that there is no evidence to suggest that the Grieving Families Act would result in increased premiums, and it would serve as a deterrent to prevent other avoidable deaths.
We implore you not to relinquish this critical undertaking. Please do not allow this perpetuation of structural inequity and racism to persist any longer. It is imperative that you promptly sign the Grieving Families Act into law.
Hon. Michaelle C. Solages, Chair, Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus
Hon. Lea Webb, Chair, Senate Women’s Issues Committee
Hon. Samra Brouk, Chair, Senate Mental Health Committee
Hon. Phara Forrest, Chair, Assembly Task Force on New Americans
Hon. Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Hon. Vivian Cook Hon. Latoya Joyner
Hon. Stefani Zinerman
Hon. Cordell Cleare
Hon. Amanda Septimo
Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
Hon. Kimberly Jean-Pierre
Hon. Karines Reyes
Hon. Pamela Hunter
Hon. Catalina Cruz
Hon. Chantel Jackson