Wrongful death legislation could change the game for Manhasset family, others

Wrongful death legislation could change the game for Manhasset family, others
Pending legislation would update New York's wrongful death laws and provide families of victims with a chance to sue for emotional losses, such as those related to Manhasset's Ryan Kiess, who was killed in a car crash last year. (Photo by Samuele Petruccelli)

Manhasset’s Kurt Kiess said his son’s death in a Quogue car accident last year and his family’s experience afterward showed him why New York’s dated wrongful death laws need to be modernized.

“I have learned a lot in the past year about New York’s legal system, most particularly the devastating impact the negligence of some can have on others and the inequity of New York law in providing remedies for the victims of negligence,” Kiess said in a statement. 

Last year, a car driving at speeds up to 100 miles an hour in Quogue rammed head-on into a Uber carrying Kiess’ son Ryan, 25, and Manhassset brothers Michael and James Farrell, 20 and 25. Both drivers all three Manhasset residents were killed. A fourth passenger, Brianna Maglio, who was Kiess’ girlfriend, was seriously injured in the crash.

Since the accident, Kiess and other families have backed legislation that would allow the families of wrongful death victims “to receive compensation for their emotional anguish.”

The legislation, the Grieving Families Act, passed 57-6 in the state Senate and 147-2 in the state Assembly. Officials said the legislation will update New York’s law to be in line with most others throughout the country.

New York’s current wrongful death law dates back to 1847 and prohibits claims for the grief resulting in a victim’s wrongful death and does not consider “non-traditional” family members in claims, officials said.

The legislation, which is still awaiting approval from Gov. Kathy Hochul, would include domestic partners and other close family members who are currently prohibited from seeking accountability against the offender in wrongful death.

Justin Mendez, 22, of Brookhaven, slammed into the Uber last year at 86 MPH on a curve of the Montauk Highway on July 24, Quogue police said in a press release. His speed just 3 ½ seconds before the head-on crash was 106 MPH, police said, citing data that the New York State Police recovered from the black box in Mendez’s Nissan Maxima.

 At a press conference days after the crash, Quogue Chief of Police Christopher Isola said an officer spotted Mendez before the accident, but could not catch up to him. The witness described to police a similar chain of events.

Kiess criticized Mendez, the officer who could not catch up to him, and the department for various forms of negligent acts that led to the death of the four men and serious injuries to Maglio.

He said that the “type of love and joy” cannot have a price tag on it, but that the three men’s lives are “worth virtually zero” under the current state laws.

“Although their lives cannot be measured in dollars, I am certain their lives are not worth zero,” Kiess said. “That is why I have taken a lead role in getting the Grieving Family Act passed. The Grieving Family Act will allow families to recover damages for their grieving and emotional loss when a loved one’s life is tragically ended as the result of the negligence of another.”

Kiess urged Hochul to pass the legislation and expressed his gratitude for the Manhasset community for their support over the past year. His family, he said, will “move forward” from the incident while never forgetting the impact their son had on their lives and the lives of many others.

“We will try to embrace life to the fullest, something that Ryan would want for all of us,” Kiess said. “While the scars left by Ryan’s loss will fade over time, they are permanent. Every day we miss Ryan, every day we talk about Ryan and every day we love Ryan. This will never end.”

Hochul spokesperson Avi Small said the governor is still reviewing the legislation.

Ryan Kiess was an ex-volunteer firefighter for Company 2 of the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department and began his three years of service in 2013. The department posted photos of his service on Facebook after his death.

Ryan was a lover of all things Long Island, Kurt said during his August funeral service. Among an extended list of items, Ryan loved Christmas dinner at the Peter Luger Steak House, the North Hempstead Country Club, fantasy football, traveling and chicken parmesan.

A review from the New York Public Interest Research Group Fund found that 47 states permit wrongful death claims to be filed for the loss of a relationship with a loved one, 20 of which acknowledge mental anguish and grief claims loved ones experienced during a wrongful death incident.

“No amount of money can replace a father, a daughter, a sibling, a domestic partner, or a spouse — but financial compensation for family members grieving a loved one’s wrongful death is a necessary accountability tool,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman said in a statement.

“In 1847 New York was a leader in promoting justice when it passed the first law in the nation to provide a right to bring a legal claim when a family member’s life was wrongfully taken,” Russ Haven, general counsel for the research fund said in a statement. “175 years later New York is at the ‘bottom of the barrel’ — among a tiny minority of states that fail to recognize claims for the loss of the relationship when a loved one is killed due to another’s wrongdoing.”

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