NH House passes bill that would boost caps on wrongful death claims

Hannah Schroeder—Keene Sentinel staff photo, file

By RICK GREEN

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 05-10-2024 10:44 AM

Despite opposition from the insurance industry, the N.H. House on Thursday passed a bipartisan bill that would increase damages a jury can award for a wrongful death claim.

Senate Bill 462 now goes to Gov. Chris Sununu and would become law if he signs it. The House passed it 191-174. The Senate passed it on a voice vote on April 11.

Claims in New Hampshire are now capped at $150,000 for the wrongful death of a spouse and $50,000 for the wrongful death of a child or a parent.

All the other states in New England have no cap except Maine, which has a cap of $1 million for loss of a spouse. 

SB 462 would increase New Hampshire’s caps to $500,000 for spouses, and $300,000 for children and parents.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, spoke in favor of the legislation before the House Judiciary Committee on April 24.

“If you should lose your spouse in an automobile accident [in Maine] due to the negligence of another person, their life is worth $1 million, but if you were to have that same accident in New Hampshire, it’s only worth $150,000,” Carson said.

She acknowledged that opponents of the bill say it would cause insurance rates to rise.

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“Well guess what, folks. They’re going to rise anyway,” Carson said, adding large wrongful death claims are infrequent in New Hampshire.

“In New Hampshire we have a long tradition in the belief and trust in the right to a trial by a jury of our peers, which would determine exactly what the damages would be.” 

She said a wrongful death award could help a parent raise a child after a family breadwinner dies through the negligence of another person.

“Really, quite frankly, $500,000, can that compensate you for the loss of your spouse, or your children’s mother, or your children’s father?”

She also said the caps on these claims in New Hampshire have not changed for about 30 years.

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, is in his 19th legislative term and chairs the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, which considers matters pertaining to insurance companies.

He argued against SB 462 before the House on Thursday.

Insurance companies often are the ones that pay wrongful death settlements, and Hunt said these companies will find a way to account for rising costs.

“I guarantee you, everyone who has an insurance policy will see an increase,” he said. “I also guarantee that any business that has a vehicle or any heavy equipment is going to see a whopper of an increase.”

Hunt said the monetary numbers set for claims in the bill are simply too high.

“There will be some insurance companies that will pull out of this state if we pass these numbers,” he said. “We have a very lively insurance market and the last thing we need to do is upset that cart with these outrageous numbers.”