The Historical Gender Imbalance

New York’s wrongful death laws date back to a time when women were devoid of legal autonomy or suffrage. Over 175 years have passed, yet the laws still perpetuate inequality by denying grieving families the right to claim emotional grief and anguish in wrongful death cases. It’s an unsettling reminder that in the eyes of the law, women’s rights remain eerily reminiscent of the 1847 status quo.

Championing Reform: The Grieving Families Act

A coalition of advocates, including prominent organizations like the NAACP, AARP, and Safe Horizon, has rallied around the Grieving Families Act—a reformative legislation aimed at rectifying the racial and gender biases ingrained in New York’s legal system. This legislation seeks to bridge the gap by providing women and people of color greater access to equal justice under the law. A rare instance of bipartisan support pushed the Act through both legislative houses in 2022, underscoring the importance of rectifying this historic inequity.

The Missed Opportunity and The Path Forward

Governor Hochul’s veto of the Grieving Families Act earlier this year was a missed opportunity to address the structural inequities that continue to undermine justice. The 1847 law, as she aptly pointed out in her op-ed, perpetuates patterns of inequity and racism that persist to this day. The amended bill that has passed through both legislative chambers now awaits her signature, presenting a second chance to rewrite history and champion the cause of equality.

Unraveling the Inequities: Loss of Consortium Cases

The historical biases embedded within the law are evident in cases of loss of consortium—a scenario where only husbands could claim damages for the deprivation of familial benefits due to injuries sustained by their wives. Unwed women, same-sex partners, and unconventional relationships were ignored. These imbalances still persist, with a woman’s worth often being determined solely by her income, ignoring the inherent wage gaps that exist.

The Grieving Families Act: A Path to Justice

The Grieving Families Act, a beacon of hope in a landscape marred by inequity, aims to reform the law in multifaceted ways. By recognizing emotional losses and transcending mere income-based evaluation, this Act values women’s lives beyond statistical figures. A pivotal response to the glaring racial and gender wage gaps, it seeks to restore justice for families of the bereaved, ensuring their claims are acknowledged and valued.

A Call to Action: Seizing the Momentum

The struggle for gender equality in the legal arena must not be left unaddressed. As the pioneers of the women’s rights movement envisioned an inclusive and just society, it is disheartening to find that our own state’s legal system is complicit in perpetuating inequality. Governor Hochul’s opportunity to remedy this lies within her signature—a symbolic yet powerful act that can rectify an age-old injustice.


The fight for equality is multifaceted, extending beyond grand gestures to the nuanced layers of our legal framework. As the world celebrates progress in gender equality, it is imperative to remember the battles that remain on the home front. The Grieving Families Act stands as a testament to New York’s commitment to justice and equity, signaling the potential for real change. In the hands of leaders like Governor Kathy Hochul, a signature on this Act can reshape history, unravel the chains of inequity, and foster a society where every individual’s worth is recognized and valued, regardless of gender or race.

by O'Connor & Partners, PLLC
Last updated on - Originally published on

Posted in: Wrongful Death