New Leadership, New Opportunities: A Roadmap to Fix New York’s Civil Justice System
Today, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, released its common sense five-point legislative agenda for 2016. The plan addresses five key areas that most contribute to lawsuit abuse and excessive litigation in New York’s civil justice system.
By virtually every measure, New York is the lawsuit capital of the world. We are worst in the nation for litigation risk and third highest for per-capita lawsuit costs. That costs taxpayers, kills jobs, and drives investment out of the state.
Estimates suggest that these common sense legal reforms would lead to multi-billion dollar benefits for New York including the creation of as many as 200,000 new jobs, $1.04 billion in new tax revenues, and $17 billion in increased economic output.
With Albany experiencing a change in leadership for 2016, LRANY will harness the opportunity and continue to fight for long overdue reforms to strengthen and rebuild our crumbling civil justice system.
The five-point plan focuses on the following issues:
Reform the “Scaffold Law”: New York’s “Scaffold Law,” the only of its kind in the nation, imposes total and virtually inescapable civil liability upon property owners and contractors for gravity-related construction accidents. Any contributing fault of the employee for the injury is not considered in court. This has resulted in a surge of opportunistic lawsuits which have dramatically increased the cost of construction. The law must be reformed to allow liability to be apportioned according to actual fault, as is the case in all other states.
Open Asbestos Trusts: New York law currently does not require plaintiffs in asbestos actions to disclose whether they previously recovered from trust funds. Often lawyers will seek recoveries from both the tort system and the trust system alleging conflicting or even outright fraudulent claims. Lack of transparency encourages widespread abuse, stealing funds intended for the legitimately harmed. These trusts must be opened up to transparency to prevent further abuse of the system.
Raise Standards for Evidence: New York’s antiquated standard of evidence predates the Great Depression, and requires only that theories of evidence be “widely accepted.” Additionally, New York lacks a statewide time frame for disclosure of expert witnesses coercing defendants into a settlement without knowledge of the strength of the case against them. The law must be amended to require evidentiary theories to be based on scientifically verifiable methods and require disclosure of experts well before the date of trial.
Link judgment interest to the market rate: In New York, judgments accrue interest at a rate of 9% annually for as long as a case is pending. This fixed rate does not account for changing market conditions, dramatically inflates award values and creates a strong disincentive for defendants to appeal a ruling. The interest rate must be linked to the federal funds rate.
Enact “fair share liability”: Under New York’s current standard of “joint and several” liability, in a lawsuit with multiple defendants, one defendant as little as 1% responsible can be held fully liable for the full amount of a judgment if the other party is unable to pay their share. New York must adopt “fair share liability,” under which liability is always apportioned proportional to fault.