On June 24th the Senate and Assembly adjourned at the call of the Majority Leader and Speaker, effectively signaling the end of the 2011 legislative session. Throughout the year, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York actively engaged members of the legislature to fight for meaningful lawsuit reform in our state. While the State’s legislature is notoriously lawyer-friendly, there were several notable positive outcomes this session. Governor Cuomo’s ethics reform bill would increase accountability and shine a light on lawyer-legislators’ potential conflicts of interest. Additionally, LRANY was responsible for introducing legislation which would protect landowners from lawsuits by trespassers. As expected, we saw a which LRANY fought aggressively. Most notably, LRANY blocked a devastating bill which would have granted private attorneys the full powers of the Attorney General under the Martin Act, and halted a package of bills which would vastly increase medical malpractice lawsuits.
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance will continue work tirelessly to make lawsuit reform a reality in New York, and provide a counterbalance to the heavily funded lawyer lobby. The following is an account of this session’s achievements.
Ethics Reform (S.5679 / A.8301)
Passed Senate and Assembly
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance strongly supported the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, which passed both the Senate and Assembly on June 13th. This legislation would require lawyer-legislators to disclose their outside income and names of clients who do business with the state. Currently, forty-five legislators report earning outside income practicing law. This measure will shed light on conflicts of interest currently hidden from public view. Many thanks to our supporters and allies for helping get this important measure passed.
Landowner Protection (S.5091/A.7590)
Referred to Senate Judiciary and Assembly Judiciary
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance secured the introduction of legislation which would prevent a flagrant trespasser from suing a landowner and recovering damages. Senator Jim Seward (R, Oneonta) and Assemblyman William Magee (D, Oneida) introduced this legislation in early May. Currently, New York and California are the only states in the nation in which a landowner can be held liable for injuries sustained by a trespasser, making this an important issue for every landowner in New York. The bill protects landowners from the unwarranted expansion of liability suggested in the Restatement (Third) of Torts, and this codification of the common law ‘no duty to trespassers’ rule is an important step in protecting landowners. By targeting judiciary committee members and majority party legislators, LRANY and our supporters recently secured co-sponsorship by Senator Patricia Ritchie (R, Watertown).
Expert Witness Disclosure
Currently, timing requirements for disclosure of expert witnesses are set by court rule in each judicial district. In many districts, parties are not required to disclose expert witnesses until as late as 30 days prior to trial. This imbalance leads to widespread “trial by ambush”, giving the plaintiff an unjust advantage over the defendant. LRANY has drafted legislation which would equalize expert witness disclosure rules and require the plaintiff to disclose expert witnesses at the filing of the note of issue, leveling the playing field in civil suits. Meetings with potential sponsors are ongoing.
Blocked Martin Act Expansion Bill (S.4497/A6060A)
Halted in Senate Consumer Protection and Assembly Codes
Assembly Bill 6060A and its Senate counterpart S.4497, sought to expand the broad powers of the “Martin Act” to private attorneys acting on behalf of pension funds of 100 or more members. Enacted in 1921, the Martin Act was designed to allow the Attorney General to file civil actions for violations. Under this legislation, private attorneys would be granted the powers of the Attorney General and not be required to prove damages, reliance, or intent to defraud. A mere typographical error could give rise to a suit under this proposed bill. This legislation would allow private attorneys to essentially force public companies to settle even the most frivolous suit, devastating the economy and costing thousands of jobs. Throughout the legislative session, LRANY aggressively targeted committee members in the Senate and Assembly, as well as the leadership in both houses, and as a result the bill was removed from committee agenda…twice. In the most recent case, the chairman was unwilling to bring the bill to a vote due to an overwhelming lack of support. After informational meetings with LRANY staff and our allies, six sponsoring legislators removed their names from this dangerous bill, sending a strong message to their peers in the capitol – New Yorkers will not stand for another trial lawyer payday bill.
Halted Attorney Fee Hike (S.2541)
Halted in Senate Judiciary Committee
Under current New York Law, the percentage of an award which may be taken by an attorney in a medical malpractice is limited by a sliding scale. As the size of the award increases, the percentage a lawyer may take decreases. This ensures that victims get the compensation they deserve, and helps prevent attorneys from seeking excessively high awards. This proposed legislation, which would remove the current fee schedule, amounts to a multi-million dollar payday to attorneys across the state. It is estimated that this legislation would increase malpractice premiums by up to 40%, or $640 million, further exacerbating New York’s medical liability crisis. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance engaged legislators on both sides of the aisle on this critical issue, ensuring that it was never brought to a vote in committee.
Medical Malpractice Package (S.3296/A694; S.5242/A.4852; S.3766/A.625)
S.3296/A.694 Halted in Senate Rules; Passed Assembly
S.5242/A.4852 Halted in Senate Judiciary; Halted in Assembly Codes
S.3766/A.625 Halted in Senate Rules; Laid aside on Assembly Floor
A package of three bills would have devastated New York’s health care system and increased medical liability premiums statewide by as much as 35%, or $560 million. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance, along with members of the medical community, engaged legislators in both houses to ensure that none of these bills became law.
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance has actively addressed many priority issues this year. As session comes to a close, we remain committed to the fight for common sense legal reforms. New York’s legal system is consistently rated among the worst in the nation, with tort losses exceeding $16 billion annually. As one of the most litigious states in the most litigious country in the world, the road to reform in New York is long, but the rewards will be great.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all our members, supporters, and affiliates. The strength of our organization is measured by the support of those who are committed to the cause. Thank you for making this year’s legislative session a success.