Advocates Across Harlem To The Hudson Are Urging Governor Hochul To Sign The Grieving Families Act

December 19, 2023

Victims Rights groups, the Grieving Families Act Coalition, Maternal Health organizations, gun violence prevention advocates, members of bereaved families.

Other supporters of the Grieving Families Act gathered Monday to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the reform, which would update the state’s 175-year-old wrongful death law. For it to be a 10-day bill, it must be delivered to the governor’s desk by Thursday, December 21.

The Grieving Families Act (S.6636/A6698), sponsored by New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, passed both chambers of the state Legislature this year and awaits the Governor’s signature. The act allows victims’ families to seek recovery for emotional grief and anguish in wrongful death cases, including accidents stemming from negligence or criminality, medical malpractice cases including misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose, and pregnancy-related deaths. The current system excludes children, retirees, the disability community, women and people of color. 

New York holds the lamentable distinction of being the most regressive state in the nation on wrongful death laws, with its current law dating back more than 175 years. 

State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, the bill’s Senate sponsor and chair of the Judiciary Committee, said: “Forty-eight other states have modern wrongful death laws, making New York one of the shameful few that put expenses and profits over the value of a human life. We’ve denied countless family members the proper consideration for their loved ones, since our 175-year-old statute considers only economic loss. Our Grieving Families Act with Assembly Member Weinstein would reform New York’s wrongful death statute by allowing families that have lost loved ones due to misconduct to sue for emotional loss. Courts are forced to discount the value of lives in wrongful death actions for those who aren’t breadwinners for their families, resulting in a disproportionately negative impact on people of color, women, children, seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities. We’ve responded to the governor’s concerns from last year’s veto and are hopeful she will sign the Grieving Families Act this month.” 

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We must put the power back in the hands of the people.

“As someone who has lived the devastation of the current wrongful death law it is my personal commitment to ensure that justice knows no bounds, and no family, irrespective of race, ability, or age, is denied the recourse they deserve because of their economic status,” said Harlem State Sen. Cordell Cleare. “The governor must reform the law and sign the Grieving Families Act, offering long-awaited justice to the bereaved, and deterring these preventable deaths. We must put the power back in the hands of the people. It is absolutely unacceptable that, in the midst of a Black maternal health crisis, and rising infant mortality, we remain in the same place we were in 1847.”

“Though over a year has passed since the horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, the victims’ families continue to suffer from unimaginable grief and loss every single day,” said Rebecca Fischer, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “The Grieving Families Act will vastly improve New York State’s inequitable wrongful death statute and allow the Buffalo survivors and other victims of gun violence and deadly tragedies the opportunity to seek justice.  Though the bill passed the legislature, Governor Hochul is running out of time. We urge the Governor to sign this bill today–time is of the essence and survivors and their families are depending on it.

“For far too long, New York has sat on the sidelines while other states have taken action to require courts to consider the full value of a human life when one is lost due to negligence,” said David Pucino, Legal Director & Deputy Chief Counsel, GIFFORDS Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Governor Hochul must bring us off the sidelines and into the modern era by signing the Grieving Families Act to ensure we’re considering the emotional toll of loss.”

New York’s outdated wrongful death lawsuit leaves our hard workers vulnerable and unsafe,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safey and Health. “Governor Hochul must sign the Grieving Families Act to update this law, bring value to the emotional suffering by those left behind when someone dies due to negligence, and bring important accountability to help prevent future death.”

Attendees of the rally included Bruce McIntyre, partner of the late Amber Rose Isaac; Mandy Fletcher, mother of the late Maison Callender; Jose Perez, partner of the late Christine Fields; Shawnee Gibson, mother of the late Shamony Gibson; and Alfida Arrevillaga, the mother of the late Marlon Arrevillaga.

“Holidays are an especially difficult time,” said Desiree Williams, the mother of ShaAsia Semple’s partner. “Khloe is 3 now, and she has so many questions about her mom. She wants to know why she can’t hear her voice, why there are only photos. It is outrageous that the law protects hospitals over patients, and corporations over New Yorkers. We will continue experiencing gross misconduct at their hands until this is fixed. Governor Hochul, sign the Grieving Families Act.”

“My son Maison would be here today if the Grieving Families Act was law,” said Mandy Fletcher, the mother of Maison Callender. “Infants’ lives have value, and our law must recognize that. Losing a child is unbearable. Knowing that his death was preventable adds enormously to the devastation I feel. To be told that your infant’s life is essentially worthless in the eyes of the law is both shocking and appalling. Governor Hochul, give other families a chance at justice. Sign the Grieving Families Act.” 

“Black women are dying in hospitals…”

“To have your soulmate ripped away on what is supposed to be the happiest day of your life is a pain that is unimaginable until you go through it yourself,” said Bruce McIntyre, the partner of the late Amber Rose Isaac and founder of saveArose Foundation. “Black women are dying in hospitals at a record rate, and there is no deterrent at all. The law makes it free to kill. My son Elias will never experience the warmth of his mother’s heart. Fortunately, these outcomes are preventable and it is not too late for other families. To regain hope in New York State, Governor Hochul must put families first by signing the Grieving Families Act.”  

“Everyone who is grieving and healing from trauma like what happened to me and worse, deserve to heal in their own time,” said Zaire Goodman, surivor of the mass shooting at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo. “There are no time limits on what we are going through. I was lucky and survived 10 other families can’t say the same thing. They have a right to be compensated for their family member who was murdered by a racist. They will grieve that loss forever.” 

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