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A Review of 2023 Efforts to Broaden Wrongful Death Acts

Several states over the past year have eliminated limitations that have been part of Wrongful Death Acts. 

In Maine, the Legislature enacted “An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Damages Awarded for Wrongful Death.” As a result, the cap for wrongful death, non-economic damages — loss of comfort, society, and companionship — was increased from $750,000 to $1,000,000 and will automatically be adjusted for inflation each year. The punitive damages ceiling was raised from $250,000 to $500,000, and the timeline for commencing a wrongful death action was changed from within two years to three years of the decedent’s death, with an exception provided in cases of homicide. 

In Delaware, “An Act to Amend Title 10 of the Delaware Code Relating to Wrongful Death Actions” permitted the recovery of punitive damages when the actions resulting in the death of another person were “maliciously intended or … the result of reckless, willful or wanton misconduct” by the at-fault party. Similarly, in Illinois, as previously reported here by the Asbestos Case Tracker, punitive damages are recoverable in wrongful death claims in cases filed on, or after, August 11, 2023, and punitive damages may be sought on existing cases on the effective date. 

Minnesota amended its wrongful death and survival statutes to allow for the recovery of “all damages suffered by the decedent resulting from the injury prior to the decedent’s death,” rather than simply the economic harms ensuing from the death of the deceased party. Thus, in death actions, non-economic damages for pain and suffering, for example, may be maintained and potentially recoverable. 

Lastly, in Rhode Island, the minimum recovery in wrongful death actions was increased from $250,000 to $350,000. 

Meanwhile, New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul first vetoed the Grieving Families Act — which would expand the current wrongful death statute — on January 30, 2023, and vetoed the proposed legislation again on December 29, 2023. The second iteration of the bill reduced the extended statute of limitations to three years after the decedent’s death from three years and six months. While it still had retroactive effect, it applied only to causes of action that accrued on, or after, July 1, 2018, regardless of when filed. Lastly, “close family members” was further defined, and the language permitting for recovery for disorderscaused by grief and anguish was removed, though it still allowed for grief and anguish damages. 

We will continue to monitor the status of efforts to expand wrongful death statutes nationally and the impact on asbestos litigation.