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.

NY Post: What’s at stake in those climate-change lawsuits against Big Oil

The New York Post published an op-ed from LRANY’s Adam Morey about how mayors and law firms are working together to sue fossil fuel companies, but federal judges are questioning the far-reaching legal theory that these energy producers can be held accountable for climate change:

Last week a federal judge in California rejected the lawsuits filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against the world’s largest fossil-fuel companies for allegedly causing climate change. The ruling deals a stunning blow to the mayors — like Mayor de Blasio — and private law firms who have waged a coordinated attack on the big oil companies in courtrooms around the country.

But will those profit-seeking lawyers and the mayors they recruit learn their lesson? Let’s hope so.

If they prevail, the outcome will enrich lawyers to the detriment of energy consumers everywhere.

Contingency-fee lawyers in search of the next big litigation jackpot are attempting to politicize the civil-justice system. They’ve set their sights on deep pockets and an important component of the global economy — oil. But, as with all political debates, climate policy should be decided in the state house, not the courthouse.

Read the full op-ed here.

SI Advance: Staten Island man brings class action suit against RX bars

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director was quoted in a story in the Staten Island Advance about a man suing over the ingredients in Rx Bars protein bars:

“This lawsuit highlights the need for reform in how New York handles class action lawsuits. I am not sure that most consumers would feel they were deceived and damaged because a product does not contain entire egg whites,” said Tom Stebbins, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director.

“In many false advertising claims the majority of a settlement goes to the lawyers while the consumers see little to no benefit. The complaint utilizes a New York law that was never intended for the class action context. The section of the state business law that mandates a $50 minimum payout for a plaintiff should not be applied per class member and the legislature should update the law to make that clear,” he added.

The full article is available here.

New York Times: Hedge Funds Look to Profit From Personal-Injury Suits

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York executive director Tom Stebbins was quoted in the New York Times today for an article about ways in which private equity firms and hedge funds are investing in litigation:

“We have turned our civil justice system into a profit center, and now the Wall Street sharks are circling,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which represents a number of industries. “They see litigation as a low-risk investment. They see this as a sure thing with so many cases settling.”

The full New York Times article can be found here.

LRANY executive director on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom

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.

PRESS RELEASE: Civil Justice Advocate Calls for Dismissal of NY Climate Lawsuit

***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.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Advocate Calls for Passage of Bill to Regulate Predatory Lawsuit Lending

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.

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Habitat Magazine: Diverse Group Pushes to Reform State’s Scaffold Law

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.