City & State Issue Spotlight: Law and Lawsuits

By: Kate Hobday

city & state

This week, the legislative newspaper City & State focused nearly the entire issue on law and lawsuits. One was article entitled Better Late Than Never (page 18), and we at the Lawsuit Reform Alliance couldn’t agree more. The newspaper focused on several issues central to LRANY’s mission, including capping non-economic damage payouts, the Daubert standard, and the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases, and included interviews with legislators, lawyers and LRANY’s Executive Director, Tom Stebbins. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance was also identified as a “key player” in the fight.

The newspaper highlighted several of the problems that have made New York a perennial “Judicial Hellhole.” New York State accounted for twenty-one percent of the $3.6 billion in payouts made to plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits in 2012, making it the highest ranking state in the country for medical malpractice lawsuits. Medical malpractice laws in New York are archaic, which leads to abuse and accounts for the high rate of payouts, which were over $763 million last year alone.

New York is one of fifteen states that have no limit on awards paid for “emotional” damages to plaintiffs. This leads to an increase in the instances of medical malpractice lawsuits, as well as the amounts that are paid out. Governor Cuomo attempted to address this issue in his 2011 budget by proposing a cap on “emotional” damages in the amount of $250 thousand but the proposal was defeated by the powerful trial lawyer lobby.

As reported by City & State, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance is also advocating for the Daubert standard [See Video] to be adopted in New York State, in place of the current Frye standard. The Daubert standard grants the judge the power to determine whether or not evidence is scientifically valid as well as requiring that expert witnesses prove that their evidence is based upon scientific methods, rather than junk science. Tom Stebbins, the Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance noted that the under the current standard, costly settlements often result because defendants do not know if the “expert” witness testifying against them has actual qualifications and that their testimony on there is based scientific facts.

Legislation has been introduced in New York State which seeks to lengthen the window of opportunity for a victim to sue. State law currently holds that the period during which a victim can sue a doctor starts at the time that the medical error occurred. The proposed legislation would extend that period of time by starting it on the date that the victim discovers that there is a problem. While well-intentioned, this change would lead to lawsuits being filed many years, or even decades after an incident, dramatically increasing the cost of providing healthcare and worsening our medical liability crisis.

While premiums in other states across the country have been decreasing in past few years, New York’s premiums rose by almost five percent. This is a direct result of our archaic medical liability laws, which encourage abuse and create astronomical costs. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance will continue to be a “key player” in the fight for lawsuit reform, as there is a clear need for it in New York, and it is better late than never.

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