Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, talked to Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter about asbestos litigation reform and bills to regulate lawsuit lending in the last week of the 2018 legislative session. The full interview can be accessed here.
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
June 13, 2018
Lawsuit Reform Alliance Calls for Court to Dismiss Climate Lawsuit
“Profit-seeking trial lawyers should not be making public policy in the courts.”
ALBANY— Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins called on Southern District of New York Judge Keenan to dismiss the climate lawsuit filed by New York City against energy companies ahead of oral arguments in Manhattan federal court on the matter today:
“Our state is already a haven for excessive litigation and this kind of lawsuit only adds to the problem. Trial lawyers are weaponizing the legal system and stretching tort law far beyond its purposes in search of the golden goose.
“The same plaintiffs’ firm involved in the New York City lawsuit – Seattle-based Hagens Berman – is involved in the lawsuits filed by San Francisco, Oakland, and King County in Washington State. This plaintiffs’ firm stands to profit substantially if any of these absurd cases are settled. And while out of state trial attorneys enrich themselves on massive contingency fee arrangements, New York’s energy consumers will pay the bill.
“Profit-seeking trial lawyers should not be making public policy in the courts. That is not the role of our judiciary, but the domain of Congress and state legislatures. These frivolous lawsuits clog our already-burdened legal system and will do nothing to actually solve the problem. As such, we strongly support dismissal of the New York City lawsuit.”
LAWSUIT REFORM ALLIANCE CALLS ON LEGISLATURE TO PASS BILL TO REGULATE LAWSUIT LENDING
Lawmakers Must Close The “Predatory Lending Loophole” In The Final Days of Session
ALBANY – As the legislative session winds to a close, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins today called on the state legislature to pass a bill that would subject companies that offer settlement-advance loans to plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits to the same consumer protection laws as all other providers of consumer loans.
Following a public hearing convened in May by Senate Consumer Protection Chair Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) and Senator Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) Stebbins reiterated LRANY’s support for S3911B, a bill introduced by Senator Ortt and Assemblyman Magnarelli that would cap interest on lawsuit loans at New York’s existing threshold for criminal usury.
Since the hearing, which was called after the New York Times and the New York Post reported on predatory practices within the industry, the Senate has seen the introduction of a bill supported by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and a bill supported by a trade group representing the lenders.
“The hearing provided an opportunity for a number of voices to be heard on how to best protect consumers from the excesses of the lawsuit lending industry. As the New York Post and the New York Times have both reported recently and in the past, there are countless stories of abuse and profiteering in this currently unregulated sector.
“It is time to put politics aside, ignore the indsutry’s attempt to muddy the waters, and pass common sense legislation that will protect consumers from predatory lending practices. Lawmakers must close the loophole that allows these companies to take advantage of some of the most vulnerable, desperate New Yorkers.
“Senator Ortt’s and Assemblyman Magnarelli’s bill is the way to do that,” Stebbins said.
Similar legislation passed the Senate unanimously in 2016, but the lenders and their representative trade groups have since dramatically increased their spending on lobbying against any regulation in New York.
Law week’s Scaffold Law Reform Lobby Day was profiled in Habitat Magazine with Jason Schiciano, the president of a Westchester-based insurance brokerage telling the publication that he joined advocates at the capitol because he is determined to persuade the legislature to fix the law. “I feel like each time I’ve gone up, more of the legislators are aware of the situation and they have a better understanding of the issues,” he said. LRANY executive director Tom Stebbins was also interviewed by the publication noting that the reform we are looking for is to apply liability just as it is applied for all other types of injuries.
Senator Rob Ortt and LRANY’s Tom Stebbins joined Liz Benjamin on Capital Tonight last week following a public hearing regarding regulating the lawsuit lending industry:
There’s a lucrative industry in New York known as lawsuit lending, and state lawmakers want to crack down on it.
Lenders provide up-front cash to plaintiffs in lawsuits who promise to repay the money after winning a settlement or award in their case.
However, these lenders are charging sky-high interest rates, making it impossible to repay the loan.
The New York Post published an op-ed from LRANY’s Adam Morey ahead of a hearing held on Wednesday May 16th by the New York State Senate Standing Committee on the issue of lawsuit lending:
Lawsuit funders sniff out tragedy to cash in on misfortune. They spend heavily on advertising that targets the disadvantaged and desperate.
Companies offer money up front for pending lawsuits and claims. Funders promise “cash now,” with some offering no-credit-check approval in just one day.
But the truth is the industry is rife with unscrupulous actors looking to exploit the legal system.
Buried in the contracts, consumers find that interest is often compounded monthly, with annual rates that exceed 100 percent. People who sign these lending agreements may ultimately win their lawsuit only to take home a tiny fraction of their award — a majority of the money ends up in the pocket of the lender, and all of this comes as the victim’s attorney also gets to take a third of the winnings.
Lenders claim that because repayment is contingent on the borrower winning the case, the product they offer is especially risky and shouldn’t be classified as a loan. This allows them to charge outrageous interest rates, well beyond those allowed under New York’s consumer-protection law.
But just how risky is it? A study published last year by Vanderbilt Law found that 84 percent of claims filed in New York’s state courts are settled. Another report revealed that lenders are choosy about their targets, with one funder furnishing just 10 percent of the loan requests it received. And as the Times revealed in devastating detail, lenders and lawyers often work together to negotiate the payout.
The result is a business model that takes advantage of consumers and turns the civil-justice system into a profit center.
Read Adam’s full op-ed here.
The New York Post published an article about a now-deceased woman who never saw a cent of her settlement against New York City because the lenders are demanding $2.1 million when they loaned the woman just $21,300.
Legal vultures are descending on the estate of a dead Brooklyn resident — demanding $2.1 million as repayment for the $21,300 she took out in cash advances on an old lawsuit, her family says.
An ailing Theresa Guss had taken out five loans from two lenders — MFL Case Funding in 2006 and Law Bucks in 2007 — to pursue a slip-and-fall case against the city.
In 2005, Guss, then 54, had fallen in a 4-by-4 foot hole outside her Williamsburg apartment and fractured her hip. As her lawsuit against the city dragged on, she took out the loans, which ranged from $1,750 to $11,200.
Guss agreed to pay them back as soon as her case was settled.
But while she eventually received a $2.1 million settlement from the city, she never saw her cut, an estimated $1.1 million. The money was still tied up in liens slapped against her by the lenders when she died from lingering hip-surgery complications this past January at age 66.
Tom Stebbins with the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York called Guss’s story “shocking and deeply troubling.
“It shines a light on the dark underworld of lawsuit funding and how these vultures operate,” he said.
“This case illustrates exactly why these loan sharks should be scrutinized not only by the courts but the [state] legislature. Members of the Assembly and Senate – on both sides of the aisle – need to work together and with Gov. Cuomo and finally pass legislation to combat these horrific abuses,” Stebbins said.
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.
The New York Post published a letter from LRANY’s Adam Morey on Sunday, April 8, 2018:
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
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.