Alisa McMorris, at the lectern in July 2021 at a...

Alisa McMorris, at the lectern in July 2021 at a Greenlawn event to encourage sober driving. Her son Andrew was 12 in 2018 when a drunken driver struck and killed him in Manorville while on a Boy Scout troop hike.

Credit: Raychel Brightman

Parents whose children died in horrific Long Island crashes — a limousine wreck in Cutchogue that killed four friends out for a bachelorette party, a head-on collision in Quogue that left five dead — were disappointed but undeterred Tuesday by Gov. Kathy Hochul's veto of a bill allowing courts to consider emotional suffering and loss when weighing family compensation in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and the Assembly in June, late Monday. The bill would have allowed relatives to file wrongful death lawsuits based on emotional loss and grief and not just on potential earnings lost by the deceased. It would have also expanded the definition of family to include nontraditional relationships, while increasing the two-year statute of limitations for filing litigation by 18 months. 

Nancy DiMonte of East Northport, whose daughter suffered serious injuries in the 2015 limousine crash, said the state needs to rethink how it views grieving families of victims and catch up with most of the country on the issue.

“Other states have worked this out, why can’t New York?” asked DiMonte, the spokeswoman for the families of eight women hurt or killed when the limo made a U-turn and was struck broadside by a pickup truck.

New York became the first state to allow lawsuits for wrongful deaths in 1847, but DiMonte and others said it now lags far behind most of the nation because it prohibits claims for emotional damages. The Empire State is one of just three — the others being Alabama and Delaware — that bar claims for grief and mental anguish caused by wrongful deaths.

“We are so behind on this,” DiMonte said. “We are very perplexed and very disappointed.” 

Hochul’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but in explaining her veto, the governor blamed the legislature for sending her what she called a flawed bill. 

"The bill passed without a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals and the States complex health care system," Hochul wrote in her veto.

The legislation was opposed by dozens of groups representing insurance companies, municipalities, manufacturers, health care providers and construction firms — many predicting skyrocketing premiums and economic calamity if the bill became law. 

"It is reasonable to expect that the bill as drafted would increase already-high insurance burdens on families and small businesses and further strain already-distressed health care workers and institutions," Hochul wrote.

Kurt Kiess, whose 25-year-old son, Ryan, was one of five people killed in a July 2021 head-on wreck with a driver fleeing from police in Quogue, responded to Hochul’s veto by saying, “Money beat morality.” 

Without passage of the law, the family of a corporate CEO can collect millions if he’s killed by a drunken driver, but under the same circumstance, the parents of a child killed by that same drunken driver would essentially be entitled to far less, or nothing, because the child was earning nothing at the time of death.

“I don’t know what a person’s life is worth,” Kiess said. “But it’s not zero.” 

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) and Assemb. Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn), a prime sponsor who has been trying to get the Grieving Families Act passed since 1994, said in a statement that Hochul had seven months to review the bill before she vetoed it just before the deadline. 

The lawmakers said a recent proposal by Hochul only addressed wrongful deaths of children, did not expand the definition of family and did not increase the statute of limitations. It also exempts deaths caused by medical malpractice. Under Hochul’s proposal, Weinstein and Hoylman-Sigal said, families who lost loved ones during the racism-inspired shooting at a Buffalo supermarket would not eligible to file litigation. 

Alissa McMorris, whose 12-year-old son Andrew was killed in 2018 by a drunken driver while he and his fellow Boy Scouts were hiking in Manorville, said Hochul’s veto stung, but she is eager to return to Albany to continue the battle.

“I want to work with the governor,” McMorris said. “I hope we can bring all the parties to the table and get this passed this session.”

It’s time for New York to acknowledge the deep loss that comes with wrongful deaths, she said. 

“My son’s life should not be tied to an antiquated law dating back to 1847,” she said. 

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