WBASNY Supports the Grieving Families Act

WBASNY Supports the Grieving Families Act

Position Statement

A.6698 (Weinstein)/S.6636 (Hoylman-Sigal)


New York, NY – December 18, 2023 – The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) supports A.6698/S.6636, which would amend the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, (EPTL) Section 5-4.3 to increase the categories of individuals whose death entitles their next-of-kin damages in wrongful death actions.  More than forty-one (41) states have enacted a “fair and equitable” wrongful death statute. WBASNY respectfully asks that the bill be signed into law to remove New York from being an outlier on this basic right.

The current law, which was enacted over 110 years ago, recognizes mostly pecuniary injuries as damages for wrongful deaths in the State of New York.  Pecuniary damages are calculated on gross income at the time of a person’s death and the computation is based upon the decedent’s age, earning capacity and life expectancy, which at the time of the creation of the law valued the life of a working man and breadwinner, but no one else. The Grieving Families Act would modernize the computation and enable the lives of women, children, infants, homemakers, minorities, the infirm, the mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly to be valued on parity with male wage earners in relation to wrongful death actions.  This law would also allow for damages for emotional distress, mental suffering, loss of companionship, anguish, sorrow, grief, loss of affection, loss of society, loss of comfort, and loss of enjoyment of life, which are currently viewed as “valueless.”

Due to the gender pay gap, there continues to exist a significant pay disparity between men and women. Accordingly, when “computing” the “worth” of a woman  against a man in the same job, the man will more often than not have earned more. Thus, the damages computation in a wrongful death claim of a wage earner, in general, will frequently be larger for a man than for a woman.  Minorities similarly face pay discrimination and, accordingly, are currently treated as having less value for purposes of determination of damages in wrongful death actions. Additionally, under the current calculation method for damages in New York State, a working person who earns a salary and who has children under the age of 21 years old is “worth more” than an infant, homemaker, child, disabled person, mentally ill person or an elderly person.

The current law perpetuates discrimination.  The damages for the wrongful death of a person should be measured equitably.  One person’s life should never be “worth” more or less than anyone else’s.  By signing the Grieving Families Act, the discrimination inherent in New York State’s current wrongful death statute would end and the lives of all New Yorkers would be on equal footing.

WBASNY respectfully requests that the Governor sign A.6698 (Weinstein)/S.6636 (Hoylman-Sigal).

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The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) is the professional membership organization of choice for over 4,000 attorneys throughout New York State and the largest statewide women’s bar association in the country.  For more than four decades, WBASNY has been a singularly important resource for women lawyers, providing professional networking, continuing legal education programming, leadership training, and advocacy for the rights of women, children, and families.  Through involvement with WBASNY’s 20 regional chapters and its 40-plus substantive law committees, WBASNY’s members collaborate with one another on a variety of issues and perform public and community service, in furtherance of its mission to promote the advancement of the status of women in society and women in the legal profession; to promote the fair and equal administration of justice; and to act as a unified voice for its members with respect to issues of statewide, national and international significance to women generally and women attorneys in particular. WBASNY holds United Nations NGO status with the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, and Special Consultative status in association with the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). WBASNY is also a founding member of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.

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