Times Union: Lawsuit alleges StarKist misled consumers about AHA mark

LRANY’s Tom Stebbins was quoted in a story in the Times Union about a lawsuit filed against canned-tuna company Starkist for its use of the American Heart Association’s logo:

In court documents filed last week in U.S. District Court in Albany, Abraham Jacob Warner said he bought StarKist tuna products as recently as February because of an American Heart Association logo displayed on the cans. The Walker Valley resident said he thought the heart check mark indicated the products were a healthier choice than cans without the logo.

Warner is asking the judge to award $50 to each class member or their actual damages, depending on which is greater, “an increase in the award of damages to an amount not to exceed three times the actual damages up to one thousand dollars,” and lawyer fees and costs.

Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, said the complaint highlights the need for change in how the state handles these types of lawsuits.

“Would a reasonable consumer feel they were injured because the company paid administrative fees for use of the American Heart Association Check-Mark logo? And for that matter, would a whole class of consumers feel that way? Something fishy is going on here,” he said in an emailed statement.

New York Post: Brew-haha

The New York Post published a letter from LRANY’s Adam Morey on Sunday, April 8, 2018:

Brew-haha

The Post is correct that your daily coffee is still safe to consume, despite a judge’s ruling that coffee shops in California must display cancer warnings (“Don’t Fear the Java,” Editorial, April 3).

But this is more than a dubious decision from a crazy California courtroom: It represents a victory for the profiteering lawyers who brought the lawsuit.

Scientists disagree whether the chemical in question is a carcinogen, but a California-only law encourages lawyers to sue despite scientific uncertainty.

Such a law should worry New Yorkers. Gov. Cuomo has said the plaintiffs’ bar is “the most powerful political force in Albany.”

Perhaps it is time for legislators to rebuke the lawyers lobby, lest New York end up like California, where trial lawyers and warning-label crusaders have confined the state to its own alternate universe.

Adam Morey, Public Affairs Manager, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, Albany

 

NBC New York: New York Sees Spike in Frivolous American With Disabilities Act Lawsuits, Report Claims

The report released last week by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York finding that lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act continue to surge in New York and around the country was covered by  NBC New York. “Lawyers are clearly driving this litigation,” Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance, told the new outlet, “They are profiting from an important law that was enacted with admirable intentions. They sue schools, newspapers, and businesses of all sizes in the hopes of getting a quick settlement.”

Read the full article here.

Journal News/LoHud.com: Frivolous American with Disabilities Act lawsuits ‘surge’ in NY, report claims

The Journal News/LoHud.com covered a report released last week by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York that details the increase in abusive lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act:

New York has seen a spike in “meritless and dubious” federal lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a report filed by a legal reform group claims.

Titled “Serial Plaintiffs,” the 11-page report by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York maintains that, while well-meaning, the law can be exploited by attorneys seeking hefty settlements, in some cases using “boilerplate” lawsuits. 

More recently, there has been a spike in lawsuits accusing company websites as being in violation of ADA, a symptom of unclear language in the law that requires updating, according to the report. 

The full story can be found here.

New York Post: Legal sharks are ready to cash in by ‘helping’

An editorial published in the New York Post describes recent revelations about the lawsuit lending industry’s marketing tactics. The editorial also points to a new report from the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York on the increase in ADA lawsuit abuse in New York.

LawCash and other “advance settlement” legal sharks are at it again, moving to profit off New York’s new medical-malpractice law.

You may recall The Post’s January exposés on these firms, which front money to potential litigants in exchange for the lion’s share of future settlements, locked in via predatory payback rates and other fees.

The sharks also wind up creating cases that likely never would have been brought — some by career criminals — without the industry’s “help.” Last year, LawCash’s $60,000 advance to a pair of Bronx buddies turned deadly when, sources said, a feud over the money led Salim Wilson to shoot Julio Velasquez.

And now the firm is advertising for clients to sue under “Lavern’s Law,” the new state statute allowing more time to file a medical-malpractice case.

It gets worse: The New York Times has reported on LawCash recruiting #MeToo plaintiffs, offering money up front with tweets like “Sexual abuse is a crime #HarveyWeinstein,” followed by offers of cash up front to sexual-abuse plaintiffs “if you or someone you know is in need of financial help.” Consumer groups have long called the advance-settlement industry exploitative. But exploiting the victims of sexual assault is a new low. (The Times reported last week that federal prosecutors are probing the industry.)

Of course, this isn’t the only way lawyers profiteer. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York is highlighting another legal racket: hundreds of suits in the Empire State alone under the American with Disabilities Act over Web sites that are insufficiently “accessible” to the deaf and/or blind.

The full editorial can be found here.

New York Post: Ralph Lauren interns get next to nothing after winning lawsuit

Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance was quoted in the New York Post commenting on how a settlement between Ralph Lauren and a class of unpaid interns seeking compensation shows “how broken the class-action system is because you have people who actually were not paid money getting pennies on the dollar while lawyers are walking away with over $100,000.”

Read the full story here.

Crain’s Health Pulse: NY regains status as No. 1 for medical malpractice payouts

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins talked with a reporter for Health Pulse at Crain’s New York Business about New York’s “dubious honor” as the number one state when it comes to total and per capita medical liability payouts:

In 2017, New York once again achieved the dubious honor of having the nation’s highest medical malpractice payouts per capita, according to the latest annual report from medical malpractice insurer Diederich Healthcare. New York ranked first in each of the last five years, except for 2016, when it was bumped down a spot by New Hampshire.

Some say the ranking should spur the state to finally pass legislative reforms to bring medical malpractice costs down.

“If you look at California, a similarly blue state that has enacted reforms, they are typically on the lower end of the list,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, a nonprofit that lobbies to rein in the number and severity of lawsuits in New York for the benefit of businesses, health care providers and other members.

While New York’s medical malpractice payouts amounted to $618 million, or $31.13 per capita, in 2017, California’s totaled just $260.7 million, or about $6.59 per capita.

Read the full story here (subscription required.)

New York Daily News: Toxic reaction over speedy shift of asbestos-case judge in Manhattan Supreme Court’s civil term

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins was quoted in a New York Daily News article about the sudden and suspicious reassignment of a judge overseeing the New York City asbestos docket:

“Sacking Justice Billings after only a few months certainly looks suspicious. This court is historically corrupt and chaotic. It has been a ‘Judicial Hellhole’ for three years straight,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

“Reassigning a key judge after just six months only adds to the appearance of chaos and corruption.”

The trial of disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver pulled back the curtain on shady aspects of asbestos litigation in New York, where verdicts are triple the national average.

It emerged that the influential firm Weitz & Luxenberg — where Silver was of-counsel despite doing no legal work — was given preferential access to potential jurors in the civil courthouse.

The practice was discontinued and Silver — who raked in big bucks referring cases to the firm, which boasts over $17 billion in verdicts and settlements — was cut loose amid corruption allegations.

Silver is awaiting retrial on those charges.

A courts official insisted the decision to remove Billings was not due to complaints by attorneys on either side of asbestos litigation.

The full article can be read here.

Governing: In World’s Most Expensive City for Building, an Attempt to Lower Costs

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins was quoted in an article at Governing about how the state’s Scaffold Law leads to increased costs and delays, and the impact that reforming the law through Congress will have on work site safety:

The federal legislation targets New York’s 1885 Scaffold Act, which imposes absolute liability on a property owner or construction employer in any case of a work-related fall. According to a 2013 Rockefeller Institute report, the law has the effect of increasing construction costs by about 7 percent. Although most states had such a law on the books a century ago, federal health and safety protections and state workers’ compensation laws have supplanted scaffold laws everywhere except New York.

“It’s important to note the bill we’re advocating for doesn’t alter safety provisions,” says Tom Stebbins, executive director of the tort reform group Lawsuit Reform Alliance New York. “It just applies liability for these injuries the way it’s done elsewhere.”

Read the full article here.

Letter to the Editor: Federal fix needed if N.Y. can’t reform Scaffold Law

The Times Union published a letter to the editor from the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York’s executive director, Tom Stebbins:

As the paper of record in New York’s state capital, we were surprised to read the Times Union’s opposition to a federal fix to the Scaffold Law, “Scaffold Law N.Y.’s business,” Feb. 4. No newspaper in the state is likely more aware of the undue influence of the trial lawyers in New York politics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself called the trial lawyers, “the single most powerful political force in Albany” in response to a question about Scaffold Law reform in 2014.

At the time, it was assumed that Cuomo was referring to disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was later convicted of corruption in a scandal involving a trial lawyer law firm. While on the payroll of that law firm, Silver bragged of stopping Scaffold Law reform despite the obvious conflict of interest between his employer and the needs of New Yorkers.

With trial lawyers’ influence in Albany, this is not the first time that advocates have been forced to rely on the federal government to fix a New York problem. Back in 2005, business and tourism advocates pushed a federal bill to fix a New York law which had held rental car companies vicariously liable for rental car accidents. The trial lawyers kept this insane law afloat in Albany for years, because they loved suing the deep pockets of Hertz and Avis. Those companies simply passed the costs onto consumers.

We are again faced with an inequity that benefits the trial lawyers at the expense of the rest of us. We applaud Congress for working to fix something that Albany could not.

Tom Stebbins

Albany

executive director, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York