Capitol Report: NJSBA Goes to Washington, Wrongful Death Bill Back in Legislative Mix

By NJSBA Staff posted 04-12-2018 12:38


New Jersey State Bar Association’s immediate past president, Thomas H. Prol, led a delegation of lawyers to Washington, DC, to lobby New Jersey representatives on legal services funding and other important legal initiatives. The delegation, which included New Jersey State Bar Foundation President Lynn Newsome, discussed increased funding for Legal Services Corporation, which annually provides services to 1.7 million low-income families across the country and is the largest provider of civil legal aid. The program was part of the American Bar Association’s Lobby Day.

Last year, Prol led a similar group, which made the rounds to urge representatives to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to defund Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Those efforts were successful, and a $385 million appropriation was kept in the budget. This year, participants are asking for an increase to $482 million to bring the LSC budget in line with its funding levels in Fiscal Year 2010.

Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) receives a significant portion of its funding from this federal line item to help New Jersey’s lowest income families fight evictions and domestic violence, and obtain assistance from government programs. LSNJ’s president, Melville D. Miller Jr., recently testified before New Jersey’s Legislature to urge it to restore the agency’s budget to Fiscal Year 2010 levels as well. 

Wrongful Death Bill Back in Legislative Mix

A wrongful death bill has been revived by Senate sponsor Nicholas Scutari years after it was pocket-vetoed by Governor Jon Corzine. S-1766 (Scutari) expands the bases for recovery under the Wrongful Death Act to include mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society and loss of companionship.

The NJSBA supports the bill because it believes it recognizes an important public policy of the true and fundamental nature of family bonds and the ramifications of the sudden wrongful loss of a family member by allowing for the recovery for grief and mental anguish. The association believes the bill addresses apparent inequities resulting from the determination that children and the elderly have no pecuniary value because they have no incomes. The bill was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

In 2008, a similar bill narrowly passed both houses, but was pocket vetoed by Governor Corzine. S-176(Doria)/A-1511(Oliver), from the 2006-2007 legislative session, was returned with a statement by the governor commending the sponsors of the bill, but warning them that there would be a significant impact on state and local budgets “since government entities are not infrequently named as defendants in wrongful death suits.” Concerned that the bill would scare off business growth, Corzine urged the Legislature to consider legislation that “strikes a fair balance that would avoid using a strict monetary valuation of a person’s life while also addressing the adverse effect of allowing unlimited unpredictable damages.”

Corzine specifically recommended legislation that would afford courts more flexibility to “reduce excessive non-pecuniary damage awards” and a less expansive definition of non-pecuniary damages.

There is currently no Assembly companion bill.

This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. To learn more, visit