Crain’s: One reason health insurance costs are up: Albany loves lawsuits

LRANY’s Tom Stebbins had a letter to the editor published in Crain’s New York Business this week:

As New York health insurers request higher rates (“Health insurers request 8.4% average rate hike”), New Yorkers should be aware that the price of medical professional liability insurance is a hidden driver of these costs. For certain specialties, including OBGYNs medical liability insurance costs are the highest in the country, and sadly, legislators in Albany are on the cusp of making it much worse.

New York already has the highest medical liability payouts per capita and highest total of such payouts in the country, an amount which totaled $685.3 million in 2018. Not surprisingly, New York was ranked this year as the worst state for doctors to practice, with professional liability insurance costs listed as a contributing factor.

The state’s pro-lawsuit statutes, driven by the personal injury bar’s influence in Albany, are the prime culprit. The lawyer-lobby has successfully convinced lawmakers to resist reforming the state’s standards for expert evidence, and recently pushed them to lift the statute of limitations in certain cases. And now, at the behest of this powerful special interest, the State Legislature is advancing another bill which would allow for subjective pain and suffering payouts in medical cases involving wrongful death claims. An analysis from actuarial firm Milliman Inc. found that medical liability premiums will increase by 47% if this bill is enacted.

Read the full letter here.

NY Post: This new green ‘right’ is nothing but a gift to trial lawyers

New York’s Legislature this week approved a poorly wrought proposal to insert an environmental rights section into the state Constitution, the so-called “Green Amendment.”

To be adopted, the bill will need to be passed by two consecutive Legislatures, then OK’d by voter referendum. But if lawmakers truly care about the future of the Empire State, they will scrap this bill altogether. Adopting this amendment would devastate efforts to develop the state’s infrastructure and further deter job creators from setting up shop here.

Read the full op-ed here.

News10NBC investigates: ADA lawsuits top 2,338 in New York; target malls, colleges, wineries and art galleries

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — More and more lawsuits are getting filed against restaurants, malls, wineries and art galleries for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

News10NBC found one man responsible for more than a hundred of them.

Our investigation started Tuesday. Now, News10NBC is finding out why the system allows all these lawsuits to happen.

The bottom line is there is nothing illegal about the lawsuits, so there is nothing to stop them. But critics say this is a cottage industry designed to make money for lawyers, not fix problems. And one solution to this stalled.

Tom Stebbins, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York: “In 2014, it was just a small issue. Now, it’s a massive issue.”

View the full segment here.

Law Journal: As Bid to Place Environmental Protection in NY Constitution Gains Steam, Backers and Foes Say It Could Spur Litigation

Lawmakers in New York passed a series of bills Tuesday aimed at protecting the state’s environment and the health of its residents, including the first step to a constitutional amendment that could have major legal implications for companies labeled as polluters.

The constitutional amendment, which wouldn’t become law until 2022 at the earliest, could open the door to litigation against companies who are accused of polluting the state’s environment in New York, said state Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland, who sponsored the measure.

“We’re adding 15 words to the state constitution to make it simple, to say, clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment have to come first,” Carlucci said. “This would give another tool to people that have been harmed by the creation of a project or by polluters that are not really considering the environment first.”

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, an advocacy group that seeks to cut down on litigation, warned that the amendment could lead to a flood of lawsuits that would overwhelm the state’s courts. That litigation could be targeted at local governments and municipalities, who would have to front a legal defense, said LRANY Executive Director Tom Stebbins.

“Similar legislation has been rejected in other states due to the burden increased litigation will place on municipalities and government entities. Moreover, costly lawsuits filed against environmental permit holders will delay critical infrastructure projects including clean energy and climate resilience projects,” Stebbins said. “There are ways to provide a clean environment to New Yorkers. This is not one of them.”

Read the full article here.

Legal Newsline: Lawsuit against TGI Friday’s over potato skins likely lawyer-driven, legal reform group says

Lawsuit against TGI Friday’s over potato skins likely lawyer-driven, legal reform group says

By John Suayan | Apr 12, 2019

A prolific class action lawyer has sued TGI Fridays over its potato skins, alleging she was deceived by the packaging. 

Attorneys C.K. Lee and Anne Seelig with the law firm Lee Litigation Group PLLC, of New York, filed the 23-page original petition on behalf of Solange Troncoso and all other persons similarly situated against TGI Friday’s Inc. on March 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

According to the lawsuit, Troncoso, a Bronx County resident, purchased a bag of TGI Fridays Sour Cream & Onion Potato Skins chips from a convenience store in the Bronx for $1.99. She claims that the snack “does not contain any actual potato skins” despite what was on its label, the complaint states.

Adam Morey with the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York told Legal Newsline he “is not sure about the merits of the claim,” but suits similar to Troncoso’s “are driven by the lawyer and not by the plaintiff.”

“New York is actually the No. 2 jurisdiction in food marketing claims,” said Morey, who added that he was not surprised the litigation was initiated in New York.

Morey described Lee’s firm as a “prolific” filer of class actions in New York and around the country.

Read the full article here!

Finger Lakes Times: Wineries face ADA website woes

WRITE ON: Wineries face ADA website woes

Apr 12, 2019

Spring in the Finger Lakes usually prompts lengthy conversations among winery owners about weather, prospects for the growing season and when tourists will start packing tasting rooms.

But this spring many of those same owners added a potentially costly and worrisome coffee-klatch topic: A blizzard of nuisance lawsuits filed because their winery websites are allegedly not compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

A few of the wineries have reportedly settled the cases for sums of between $10,000 to $15,000 to avoid the costs of lengthy litigation.

On the advice of legal counsel, most of the targeted winery owners are declining to say much publicly.

But examination of the lawyers’ tactics filing these ADA-related lawsuits makes it seem more like ambulance chasing than an attempt to fight for justice for the disabled.

Read the full article here!

New York Post: Corey Johnson targets Scaffold Law in plan to fix MTA

Council Speaker Corey Johnson has targeted a sacred cow in his plan to reform the MTA: New York’s much-maligned Scaffold Law, which critics say boosts insurance costs for transit projects and on other construction in New York State by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Scaffold Law assigns 100 percent liability on owners and contractors for workplace injuries — without considering whether the worker is at all to blame.

New York is the only state with such a one-sided law, which Johnson says drives up costs to cover negligence suits, according to the Johnson plan.

Read more here.

WHAM 13: ADA lawsuits targeting Finger Lakes wineries/others under scrutiny

WHAM) – New lawsuits filed in federal court last week target two Finger Lakes wineries, accusing them of having websites that are not accessible to people who are blind or visually-impaired. 13 WHAM News first reported last fall on the rash of lawsuits being filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now the lawsuits, and law firms behind them, are under the microscope.

“These lawsuits are clearly driven by lawyers and not by the plaintiffs,” said Adam Morey of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

Justin Young is legally blind. He sues voice-over software to surf the web. “Any text on the screen, that’s what will say,” when he demonstrated it for 13 WHAM News in October.

Since then, dozens of wineries and hundreds of small businesses have been sued under the ADA for having websites incompatible with screen-reading software. There’s just one problem.

“There’s a regulatory gap. There’s no clear law on where the ADA applies to websites,” said Morey. Disability groups and some members of congress have long called on the US Department of Justice to issue ADA guidelines for the internet. So far that hasn’t happened.

Watch the full segment here.

Andreatta: Steuben County woman wants Ricola to cough up $5 million

There is a tidal wave of class-action food labeling litigation flooding federal courts right now, led by lawyers looking to cash in on subjective interpretations of marketing terms like “natural” and “healthy.”

A U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform study found 425 active cases between 2015 and 2016 compared to just 19 in 2008. A fifth were in New York, which, according to the group, bears the highest annual cost of tort litigation of any state at $6,066 per household.

“We’re not saying this particular case should or shouldn’t be brought,” said the group’s spokesman, Bryan Quigley. “But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is a consumer-driven case to help people, and the lawyers are there to bring justice.

“This is lawyer-driven litigation for the purposes of a settlement that often enriches the plaintiffs’ firm and gives the broad class pennies or coupons.”

Some recent headline grabbers include:

A Buffalo woman who led a class-action against the manufacturer of Canada Dry Ginger Ale because the soda didn’t contain real ginger.

A class-action lawsuit out of Albany that claimed the American Heart Association’s logo on StarKist Tuna misrepresented the brand as healthier than other tunas.

A Manhattan woman who sued Tootsie Roll Industries on behalf of Junior Mints consumers, claiming half her box of Junior Mints was filled with air, despite the weight of the candy being listed on the package.  

The latter case was tossed by a judge who said, “The law simply does not provide the level of coddling the plaintiff seeks.”

No one wants to fall victim to false advertising, and there should be recourse for consumers who’ve been legitimately defrauded. Companies that engage in bogus marketing should get pinched, like tobacco companies.

But what reasonable consumer has been aggrieved by the claims in such cases or, in this case, the term “naturally soothing?”

None, says Adam Morey, of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

“When judges throw these cases out, they often do so on the grounds that a reasonable consumer would not find that to be injurious,” Morey said. “This looks like one of those cases.”

Click here to read the full column.

WHAM 13: Local business leaders rally against New York’s Scaffold Law

Rochester, N.Y. – Local business leaders are calling for New York to repeal a law they say raises the cost of construction projects.

Opponents of the Scaffold Law say insurance companies are forced to charge higher premiums for construction insurance because the law holds builders 100 percent responsible for gravity-related injuries at a work site.

Friday, local business leaders gathered to call on New York to repeal the law.

“It’s been around since 1885, and every other state has gotten rid of it because it’s costly and provides no benefit,” said Lawsuit Reform Alliance executive director Tom Stebbins. “We in New York cannot advance if we have a law that costs billions of dollars, only exists in New York and has no discernible benefit.”

Click here to watch the full segment.