By: Tom Stebbins
On Wednesday, Lawrence S. Kahn, the Chief Litigating Assistant of the New York City Law Department and a member of the Executive staff of the City’s Corporation Counsel, spoke to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) at their annual legislative conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. Kahn participated in a panel discussion entitled “Limiting Municipal Tort Liability” along with current San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
Mr. Kahn’s presentation included some startling figures and anecdotes about the cases the New York City faces each year. According to Kahn, claims against NYC have increased 2,600% since 1977, far outpacing inflation. He highlighted slip and fall cases as a particular area of concern for the city. Fortunately, the City Council helped relieve that burden by making sidewalk snow removal and the repair of sidewalk defects the responsibility of the property owners, not the city. With hundreds of millions in claims every year and nearly 13,000 miles of sidewalks, this was a positive development in controlling the costs of lawsuits on the city.
Of course the City still faces a staggering amount of slip and fall cases each year. And based on one story from Mr. Kahn, positive legislative efforts by the City Council cannot always protect taxpayers from the rapacious trial bar. Soon after the City Council passed legislation requiring that the City have prior notice of a sidewalk deficiency, the plaintiff’s bar set up the “Big Apple Sidewalk Protection Committee” and served the city with 700,000 alleged violations across the city – potentially paving the way for up to 700,000 lawsuits.
In addition to the legislative support the city has received from the City Council, Mr. Kahn highlighted joint and several liability reform as a potential statewide legislative reform that could help relieve NYC from the burden of over $500 million in annual tort costs.
We at the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York applaud Mr. Kahn for his diligence and service to the people of New York City and thank the American Tort Reform Association for inviting him to speak on the important issue of municipal liability.