Lawsuit Reform Alliance urges wrongful death statute expansion veto

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — After Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that would have reformed New York’s wrongful death law, the Legislature passed a new version that would amend things like the statute of limitations and who can bring claims.

However, New Executive Director Tom Stebbins believes the Law Reform Alliance was not enough.

“The Legislature had an opportunity to work with the governor to try to pass legislation that works for both parties, and they really didn’t,” Stebbins said.

The law will still increase medical liability costs by 40% and general liability and auto costs by 11%, according to an analysis from actuarial firm Milliman.

“The cost of medical care for the average person will go up because the medical sector will be hit hard, the cost of auto insurance and general liability insurance will go up because the insurance industry will be hit hard, and the cost of taxes will go up. Municipalities will be hit hard,” Stebbins said.

Before vetoing the previous law, which would have allowed claims for pain and suffering, among other things, the governor wrote an op-ed citing concerns about unintended consequences for the economy, small businesses and the health care system. Stebbins, who represents many of those interests, said the Legislature would have no fiscal impact, a point others, including the state budget department, disagreed with.

“Too many members of the public don’t even read the memos that say this is going to affect the budget. They need to do their homework and get this right. The first time,” he said.

An important connection concerns the inclusion of exemptions for medical malpractice claims. Senate sponsor Brad Holman-Sigal said last week that although he was open to agreeing to another veto override, it was “not on the table” at this time.

“We’re open to any and all negotiations,” Holman-Siegal said. “From my position as a state legislator, there is no line in the sand. I look forward to discussing this bill with the governing body and my colleagues in the Assembly.”

Supporters say the law hasn’t been updated in 175 years, while 47 other states have made changes. Stebbins said the important difference is that other states, such as Illinois, also allow for emotional damages, while New York’s proposed version is particularly realistic in terms of limiting expenses for things like counseling.

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