New Yorkers Can’t Afford Dramatic & Unnecessary Expansion Of Wrongful Death Law

By Kristina Baldwin | May 31, 2022

The cost of everything is going up – from gas to groceries to rent. New Yorkers are stretched to the limit, trying to make their hard-earned dollars go far enough to support themselves and their families.

Inflation has hit historic highs with no immediate relief in sight and the Empire State continues to lag behind the rest of the country in its post-pandemic economic recovery. Now is clearly not the time to pile yet another additional cost onto the backs of hard-working individuals trying to make ends meet.

But that is exactly what the state Legislature will do if lawmakers pass A.6770/S.74-A – a drastic overhaul of the law related to who can be awarded damages in wrongful death lawsuits. While the sponsors are no doubt trying to provide comfort to bereaved individuals, the unintended consequences of this legislation will be severe, driving up the cost of many types of insurance at a time when New Yorkers can least afford it.

The current law allows individuals who win wrongful death claims to receive compensation for economic losses that result from the death of a loved one – funeral expenses, for example – as well as for pain and suffering experienced prior to their passing. The proposed legislation dramatically expands the number of people who can bring wrongful death suits and also creates a new category of non-economic damages for “grief and anguish.”

This is a difficult debate. No one denies the pain and suffering individuals feel when a loved one dies in an accident or as a result of a medical error, nor their significant loss of love, companionship, nurturing and more. But these experiences are highly subjective, almost impossible to quantify, and – sadly – subject to manipulation.

What’s more, while supporters point to the fact that the majority of other states across the nation recognize claims for the emotional loss of a wrongfully killed loved one, they fail to note that these damages are almost always capped. That is not the case with A6770/S74-A.

The majority of wrongful death lawsuits involve car accidents and the medical industry – particularly hospitals. New York already has some of the highest auto and medical malpractice insurance costs in the nation. The truth is that driving the price of coverage still higher will not make New Yorkers any safer or healthier.

Actually, the exact opposite could be the case.

An analysis conducted last year by Milliman Inc., a premier global consulting and actuarial firm, found that an earlier, and less expansive, version of this legislation would increase liability premiums by more than $2 billion a year. Medical malpractice premiums, in particular, would be impacted, rising as much as 47 percent.

New York’s health care industry was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and is still working to recover – an effort exacerbated by chronic staffing shortages that have, in some cases, forced facilities to dramatically curtail services or close altogether. Safety-net hospitals, which treat poor and under-insured or uninsured New Yorkers, are in particularly dire straits as they struggle to meet the pent-up demand for care.

Though many of these facilities have benefitted from an influx of state and/or federal relief funds, that money was intended to help safeguard and expand patient care and hire additional staff. It was not meant to cover rising insurance costs in a state that already has the highest medical liability payouts per capital in the entire U.S. – $685.3 million in 2018 alone.

New York’s existing law already provides reasonable and fair compensation for the state and family members of someone who dies under wrongful circumstances. Grieving individuals are indeed due fair and just compensation, but A6770/S74-A is a serious overreach that will do more harm than good and should be voted down.

Kristina Baldwin is vice president, State Government Relations, at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, the primary national trade association for home, auto, and business insurers.