Wrongful Death Legislative Expansion Proposed in New Jersey Senate
On April 5th, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee pushed forward Senate Bill S-1766, legislation which would expand the state’s wrongful death statute to allow for recovery of damages from “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society and loss of companionship.” Currently, the survivors who lost a loved one cannot be compensated for such emotional loss.
The Bill, introduced by New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, would eliminate the restriction in the current wrongful death statute which instructs that jurors are not to “consider any emotional distress, anguish, or grief the survivors may have suffered as a result of the decedent’s death, or any loss of emotional satisfaction the survivors may have derived from the society and companionship of the decedent.”
Under the present New Jersey wrongful death law, damages are recoverable for “pecuniary/economic loss” only, which is the amount of money lost by a dependent when the support person dies, as well as the hospital, medical, and funeral expenses incurred from the deceased. Financial loss may also be defined, under current law, as “the reasonable value of the services, assistance, care, training, guidance, advice, counsel and companionship the survivors would have received from the decedent…”
The proposed law would expand damages to include “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, and loss of companionship.” This expansion is significant as it reflects the losses naturally suffered by a human being who loses a loved one such as a child, parent, or spouse.
Families whose loved ones have suffered and died will no longer be pigeonholed to only seeking damages from the loss of actual and future financial losses from the deceased. With this new legislation including emotional distress, anguish, or grief, there would be no constraints put onto the jury to meet or not exceed a certain predetermined number. Pecuniary/economic loss of a decedent is a figure that is calculated and determined prior to trial. Emotional damages are not constricted to an actuarial determination, and thus are only determined by the specific jury on trial once they have examined the evidence of the case.
Now that Bill S-1766 has passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, it still needs to be approved by both the Senate, and then go to Governor Murphy’s office for signature.