NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill imposing what sponsors said was a first-in-the-nation duty on hosts to “provide reasonable assistance” to guests they believe are suffering from a life-threatening condition. If they failed to do so, the proposed law would have made homeowners “liable for damages for injuries sustained by such guest or for damages for the death of such guest which occurred by reason of such failure.” The veto was the right thing to do as the last thing NY needs is another source of litigation and the last thing NY homeowners need is the likely increase in their insurance if this bill passed.
The Governor correctly understood the difference between a moral obligation and a legal obligation saying:
“Although it is morally incumbent on a person to render assistance in the event of a medical emergency, when possible, this bill is too vague and may create a threat of civil liability and impose the obligation to defend a civil lawsuit unnecessarily on people.”
Sponsors dubbed the legislation “Steven Kovacs Law” in honor of a 22-year-old college student who died of a drug overdose at a friend’s home in Carmel, Putnam County in July 2009. His mother, Joni Kovacs-Howe, has maintained that her son was found unconscious by his friend’s father at 7 a.m., but that for several hours, neither the father nor three of her son’s friends sought medical help.Kovacs was pronounced dead at about 12:30 p.m. at the hospital where his friends finally took him, Kovacs-Howe said.
In my opinion, governors all across this nation should automatically veto any bill named after a particular person. The bills are generally drafted by press hungry legislators looking to take advantage of a newsworthy event. That event is usually an isolated and unusual incident that is not covered by current statutes – usually for a reason. The new law is then rarely applied to the same scenario as caused its issuance since it was such an unusual occurrence in the first place. Instead, it gets stretched to cover actions (or in this case inactions) not contemplated by the new law but which fit into the language of the law.
Ms. Kovacs stated that she pushed for years for legislation that would make homeowners criminally liable for failing to summon help for stricken guests, but settled for civil liability because of opposition in the Legislature to criminal negligence. Steven Kovacs had just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton when he died. He was set to begin studying in September 2009 in a graduate program in psychology at the University of Tennessee.
Thank goodness that even the pandering NY State legislature saw fit not criminalize inaction; they should have had the backbone to tell Ms. Kovacs that while well-intentioned “Steven’s Law” would have caused a flood of litigation over whether a homeowner knew that a guest’s issues at a party were “life-threatening.” Also what does “reasonable assistance” mean? Is calling 911 enough if the homeowner is a doctor? A nurse? an EMT? A psychiatrist?
A memo of opposition from the New York Insurance Association said the legislation would result in higher insurance premiums for homeowners:
“An omission to act is rarely punished in our legal system, based on the long-standing public policy that requiring the performance of affirmative acts is unduly coercive and beyond the legitimate scope of government,” the group, which represents property and casualty insurers, wrote.
A drug reform group, the Drug Policy Alliance, was also against the legislation, saying:
“Increasing penalties, even civil penalties, will not save lives, but will likely lead to increased overdose fatalities,” Additionally, the term ‘reasonable assistance’ is vague and likely to create confusion, unfair and unnecessary lawsuits, and increase people’s fear of taking action. This will lead to deadly delays in seeking help to save a life.”
Mr. Kovacs’ death was certainly a tragedy but it should be used to help shed light on the growing surge of abuse of prescription painkillers – not to add another level of liability to NY homeowners.