Going Broke Winning Lawsuits

Lawsuits against municipalities have been a major problem in New York State for quite some time. Often, municipalities are the target of lawsuits simply because of their ability to pay; thanks to our state’s rule of joint and several liability, a defendant who is found only 1% responsible can be forced to pay 100% an award. Even if a local government wins, the costs of litigation are a steep price to pay.  And remember – every dollar spent on legal fees and judgments comes from taxpayers’ wallets.

Those dollars can add up fast for a small town. The city of Gold Bar, WA  is currently on the brink of bankruptcy due to the cost of defending six lawsuits brought against them since 2009, all of which they have won thus far.  “We are going broke winning lawsuits,” the city’s mayor Joe Beavers was quoted as saying.  With the cost of defending these lawsuits approximately $100,000 per year – almost $200 for each of the town’s 575 families – the city can afford to fight no longer. With an annual budget of only $600,000, Gold Bar is faced with a grim choice: raise taxes or declare bankruptcy.

This unfortunate ultimatum faced by the city of Gold Bar highlights the distinct connection between lawsuits against municipalities and taxpayer dollars.  With New York’s local governments being no stranger to lawsuits, our elected officials must take steps to prevent municipal bankruptcy due to litigation.  A bill that was swiftly introduced and passed on the last day of session does just the opposite.  Known as the Uniform Notice of Claims Act, this legislation would extend the time period for filing a claim and allow lawyers to take a virtual “check the box” approach to filing lawsuits.  If enacted, it would encourage lawsuits against our municipalities and increase costs to taxpayers statewide.

The bill will soon be sent to the desk of Governor Cuomo to be signed into law or vetoed.  Nobody bothered to ask the taxpayers what they thought about this bill when the legislature passed it – this is the only chance we have. Write to the governor today and tell him to veto this bill – we’re paying for enough lawsuits already.

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