(WIVB) — Families who were fighting for change are left disappointed after Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act.
That includes some of the loved ones of the Tops mass shooting victims who, earlier this week, wrote an open letter calling on the governor to sign the bill into law. Instead, Hochul vetoed it late last night just ahead of the midnight deadline.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose mother Ruth was killed on May 14. “This is hurtful. We thought that she would sign it. We thought she saw our point, but that’s obviously not the case.”
Passed overwhelmingly in the NYS Senate and Assembly, the Grieving Families Act would overhaul the 175-year-old Wrongful Death Statute.
Under New York State law, only specific loved ones can sue for tangible losses and the income-earning potential of the person killed. Many argue this discriminates against those of lower socioeconomic status, children and elderly people.
“My mom [was] 86-years-old. To tell me her life doesn’t have as much value as someone else’s, no matter what their age, no matter what their station in life – I’m having a problem with that,” Whitfield said.
In her veto message, Gov. Hochul said, as drafted, the bill would drive up insurance premiums, hurting small businesses and hospital systems.
“Healthcare providers, constituencies – from the hospital to the physicians organizations – were all opposed to this legislation as it stood, and supported and heavily lobbied Governor Hochul [to veto this bill]” said Larry Zielinski, the Executive in Residence for Healthcare Administration for UB’s School of Management.
Zielinski said analysis done by those groups showed the Grieving Families Act had potential to cripple hospital systems already hurting from the pandemic.
“The way the law was written, it would have a significant impact on increasing medical malpractice liability. They have an actuarial analysis that indicated it would raise medical malpractice rates by 40-percent,” he said. “When faced with a much broader definition of loss, they feed that to their actuaries – ‘estimate this loss for us’ – and when you have parameters that can’t really be estimated, you come up with very high insurance premiums.”
But advocates for the changes say the fight isn’t over, and that they will continue to push for updates to the Wrongful Death Statute.
In her veto message, Hochul said she welcomes further discussions for “equitable solutions.”
Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.