EDITORIAL: Negotiate Grieving Families Act in public

The state Capitol Building in Albany.

The state Capitol Building in Albany.

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A controversial bill that will affect every single New Yorker is being negotiated in secret while Gov. Kathy Hochul decides whether to sign it, veto it or agree on amendments that could significantly alter its scope and effect.

Because of its widespread impact, the public has a right to know what’s going on with the bill, before the governor makes a final decision.

At issue is the Grieving Family Fact, a bill that would update statutes passed during the mid-1800s regarding financial awards to survivors of those killed due to another’s negligence.

Existing laws essentially set financial awards in wrongful death cases based on the earning power of the individual killed — ignoring the emotional and psychological effects of a death and excluding from compensation survivors outside immediate family members.

The new law would expand those eligible for financial awards to include “close family members.” It also would expand the categories on which survivors could make claims, including funeral expenses, reasonable medical expenses, grief or anguish, loss of assistance and companionship; and other factors.

Supporters, including surviving family members, say the bill considers modern family structures and gives value to an individual’s worth beyond simple economics.

Opponents, including insurance companies, the medical community and business groups, argue that the bill goes too far in the justification for claims and that it would significantly raise insurance premiums and litigation costs.

And they say there are already avenues for families to receive awards based on pain and suffering, beyond economics. So it’s not needed.

Both make fair points.

Is it fair to base the financial impact of a negligent act on someone’s earning power while lessening the impact of the loss of a child or senior citizen? Is it fair to limit awards based on an outmoded definition of family that excludes important, influential people in an individual’s lives, such as grandparents and step-parents? No.

But is it right to ignore the financial impact of an expanded compensation system on businesses and individual rate payers? Someone will pay the higher premiums that insurance companies will charge customers to make up for the higher financial awards they will be paying out.

Unlike other states, this proposed law does not cap financial awards, which opens the possibility for excessive and unmanageable payouts.

Companies should pay a price for their negligence. But they also can’t be expected to write a blank check to everyone impacted.

Because this bill significantly affects so many individuals and businesses in so many ways, the governor and lawmakers must openly negotiate proposed amendments and discuss proposals for award caps and other changes in public, so everyone with a stake in it knows where the bill stands before it’s signed into law and can lobby for the changes they need.

There’s too much at stake for too many people to finalize a deal in private.

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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