News 12 Westchester: Business leaders cite bridge cost in call for scaffold law reform

News 12 Westchester reports that on Friday, business leaders gathered in the shadow of the new Tappan Zee/Mario Cuomo bridge to call on elected officials to fix the only-in-New York Scaffold Law.

“The scaffold law, which holds construction companies 100 percent liable for injuries such as falls, added between $200 million and $400 million to the cost of the bridge project. Tom Stebbins, of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance, says the law has deterred development projects across the state. ‘Statewide it’s estimated to cost $785 million a year to the public of New York,’ says Stebbins. ‘Think about how many schools we could build. How many more bridges we could build. How we could fix the MTA with that money that we’re wasting on a law that only exists here in New York and has no discernible benefit.'”

Watch the video and read the full story here.

Newsday: Making business websites accessible for the disabled

Small business columnist Jamie Herzlich writes at Newsday that “hundreds of companies, including at least three on Long Island, are facing lawsuits claiming their websites are not accessible to the disabled…The lawsuits are based on an interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that public accommodations be accessible to disabled people. While the 1990 law does not specifically address websites, the U.S. Department of Justice has maintained in past court filings that they are covered.” Tom Stebbins, the executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance told Newsday, “There needs to be [DOJ] guidance. Businesses across New York are completely unprotected, and they’re unprotected because they have no guidelines.”

Read the full story here.

Daily News: Brooklyn lawyer files avalanche of lawsuits over website accessibility for the blind

LRANY executive director Tom Stebbins was quoted in a New York Daily News story on Sunday about a Brooklyn-based law firm that has filed hundred of lawsuits against companies for websites that the suits allege are not accessible for the blind:

A Brooklyn lawyer has filed hundreds of lawsuits this year over websites that fail to accommodate the blind – a practice that critics say is all about making a quick buck.

Attorney Joseph Mizrahi has filed an astonishing 411 suits in Manhattan Federal Court on behalf of 13 visually impaired people. The paperwork charges a wide array of businesses violated the Americans With Disabilities Act through sites that are incompatible with screen-reading programs. The suits seek to force each company to overhaul its site and make it accessible.

The businesses Mizrahi sued run the gamut – from casinos to retirement homes, racetracks to breweries. Steinway Pianos, the Dish Network, Apple and Caribbean Cruises all have landed in Mizrahi’s crosshairs in the past nine months.

“This is unquestionably being abused. The goal of these cases is just to get legal fees,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Albany-based Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

Click here to read the full story.

Crain’s: Critics blame scaffold law for megaproject’s insurance costs ballooning 557%

At the end of July, Crain’s New York Business ran an article about how New York’s Scaffold Law increases insurance costs on all construction projects in the state:

Documents from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board meeting last week show that insurance costs on East Side Access, the decade-delayed effort to link the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central, have ballooned 557% from the original estimates.

That was all the opportunity opponents of New York’s “scaffold law” needed to call attention to the statute, which is unique to the state.

“Insurers, it has been documented over and over, have left the market because of the scaffold law,” said Tom Stebbins, of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, a tort-reform group. “These are billion-dollar policies and people don’t want [to sell] them. That should tell you something.”

Stebbins noted that numerous judicial rulings in the past decade have expanded the scaffold law’s application to cover more and more workers hurt on the job, and he cited a report Willis itself published in 2017, which identified the law as the “primary culprit” for New York’s “highly litigious environment.” The result has been what Willis, which did not respond to a request for comment, termed an “insurance crisis.”

Read the full article here.

NY Post: Wheelchair-bound man who sues inaccessible shops can walk

The New York Post reporters exposed Arik Matatov, the serial disability lawsuit filer the paper covered earlier in the week, as not someone who requires a wheel chair to get around:

A worker at men’s clothing store Ari in Soho — which Matatov threatened after finding its portable ramp was too small for his chair to get up two steps — said he hopes there are consequences.

“These people should be prosecuted for hurting businesses for no reason. There is no merit to this case,” said the employee, who wouldn’t give his name.

“That lawyer should be barred from practicing law,” he added.

Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which is working to eliminate nuisance suits, said the scheme makes “a mockery of the legal profession and the civil justice system.”

“The New York attorney general and the Department of Justice should keep a close eye on these serial filers — in both state and federal courts — and the lawyers at the lawsuit mills that recruit them,” he said.

“The fraud and abuse in this system must be stopped so these laws can be returned to their noble intentions,” he said.

Neiman and Matatov wouldn’t be the first people accused of gaming the Americans with Disabilities Act with dozens of suits.

Read the full story here.

NY Post: Wheelchair-bound man demands $50K from inaccessible shops

The New York Post reports that a man has sued or sent demand letters to 49 businesses for alleged lack of accessibility for the disabled:

 

He wouldn’t say how much Matatov has collected in settlements but boasted that 10 business have made their entrances accessible in response to his demands.

Steven Kirkpatrick, a lawyer for the trendy women’s clothing store AYR in Soho, said he agreed to settled Matatov’s case for less than the $50,000 demand.

Kirkpatrick said he has noticed an upsurge in such disability suits in recent years.

“It’s easy money for lawyers,” he explained.

Critics, meanwhile, said the lawsuits do little to improve the lives of people in wheelchairs.

“Multimillion-dollar cookie-cutter-claims like these have nothing to do with increasing access for the disabled,” said Tom Stebbins, director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

“The court system is being exploited to bully small businesses into paying out settlements.

“It’s extortion, plain and simple,” he added.

Read the full article here.

Forbes: Losing Streak Emerges As NYC, Hired Guns Defeated In Climate Change Case By Big Oil

LRANY’s statement on the dismissal of New York’s climate change lawsuit against the fossil fuel companies was picked up by Forbes/Legal Newsline:

Resisting these lawsuits have been several Republican state attorneys general and the Trump administration. Opposition to the cases argues that is the job of the legislative and executive branches to regulate greenhouse gases.

Where these cases have been filed has not been surprising. In Rhode Island, the state previously attempted a similar “public nuisance” theory on the former makers of lead paint. Boulder has a history of addressing climate change, and Washington’s King County is home to Hagens Berman’s headquarters.

And California and New York have reputations as two of the country’s most favorable jurisdictions for plaintiffs lawyers.

“We’re thrilled with Judge Keenan’s decision today to dismiss the City’s baseless climate change lawsuit. New York is already a haven for excessive litigation and this kind of lawsuit only adds to the problem,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the New York Lawsuit Reform Alliance.

“Trial lawyers are attempting to politicize the legal system and stretch tort law far beyond its purposes in search of the next litigation jackpot.

“Unelected, profit-seeking trial lawyers should not be pushing public policy through the courts. That is not the role of the civil justice system; it is the domain of Congress and state legislatures – elected officials accountable to the people.”

The full article can be found here.

Statement on Judge Keenan’s Decision to Dismiss New York City’s Climate Lawsuit

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins’ Statement on Judge Keenan’s Decision to Dismiss New York City’s Climate Lawsuit:

“We’re thrilled with Judge Keenan’s decision today to dismiss the City’s baseless climate change lawsuit. New York is already a haven for excessive litigation and this kind of lawsuit only adds to the problem.  Trial lawyers are attempting to politicize the legal system and stretch tort law far beyond its purposes in search of the next litigation jackpot.

“Unelected, profit-seeking trial lawyers should not be pushing public policy through the courts. That is not the role of the civil justice system, it is the domain of Congress and state legislatures – elected officials accountable to the people.”

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NY Post: Judge calls request for half a million in legal fees ‘highway robbery’

LRANY executive director Tom Stebbins was quoted in the New York Post commenting on a Manhattan judge’s recent decision to slash a law firm’s fee request:

A Manhattan judge called a demand for a half million in fees by a law firm against four middle-class homeowners “highway robbery without the six-gun.”

Attorneys from Greenberg Traurig — where former mayor Rudy Giuliani practiced until joining the president’s legal team— asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron to award them $464,000 in fees against four owners of units at the Lower East Side co-op Seward Park.

The homeowners had sued the building over parking spaces.

The Greenberg lawyers, representing the building, had won a preliminary motion to dismiss the case a year after it was filed.

Engoron notes in his ruling that the “staggering sum” could purchase a one-bedroom in an Upper East Side doorman building or a four-bedroom home in Nassau County.

“By requesting astronomical fees, attorneys are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” he warned.

He slashed the fee by nearly 40 percent to $175,000.

A spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig said, “We respectfully disagree with the characterization of our firm’s fees in this matter on which our client prevailed.”

Tom Stebbins with the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York said, “Judge Engoron is correct that lawyers’ fees have gotten completely out of control. We continually hear stories of law firms over-billing by hundreds of thousands of dollars and class action lawyers that pocket the majority of large settlements, leaving little or nothing for the plaintiffs.”

Crain’s: Letter from Congress could affect local industry around ADA lawsuits

Crain’s New York Business ran an article about a letter signed by 103 members of Congress at the end of June calling on the Department of Justice to stem the tide of lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act over alleged inaccessibility to websites by the hearing and visually impaired. The article mentions a report released earlier this year on the issue by LRANY:

Over the years, Manhattan attorney Jeffrey Gottlieb reckons he has brought more than 100 lawsuits against companies that haven’t made their websites usable by the blind. Although federal law prohibits plaintiffs from collecting large amounts of damages, the cases are so irksome to the business community that Congress is asking the Trump administration to crack down on them.

“The absence of statutory, regulatory or other controlling language on this issue only fuels the proliferation of these suits,” more than 100 members of Congress wrote in a June 20 letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Scores of New York companies, including Bulgari, Fairway Market and Zabar’s, have been sued for operating websites that allegedly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law was signed by George H. W. Bush in 1990 and led businesses to spend big sums installing wheelchair ramps and clearing impediments that prevented disabled people from entering stores and offices. But many companies never got around to making it possible for the blind to use their websites—a big issue in this era of online commerce.

Gottlieb and his ilk have made New York’s federal courts a hotbed for ADA website litigation, with 335 suits filed last year, according to law firm Seyfarth Shaw, or more than 40% of all cases. The cases usually are resolved quickly out of court, and, according to a report earlier this year by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, it costs on average $16,000 to settle.

The vast majority of that money is paid to lawyers for services rendered because New York law bars plaintiffs from collecting more than $500 in damages. Most states don’t allow for any financial damages in these cases.

Read the full article here.