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STATEMENT: Response to the Cuomo, Schneiderman Litigation Risk Partnership from LRANY Executive Director

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November 19, 2015

Response to the Cuomo, Schneiderman Litigation Risk Partnership from Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins

“We are thrilled that the Governor and Attorney General both recognize the runaway costs of litigation against New York State, our schools, and our municipalities, but New York needs to do more than asses risk, we need to address it. Studies have shown that our municipalities pay over a billion dollars in lawsuits costs every year. New York City alone spends more on lawsuit settlements than on parks, libraries, and aging combined – over $700 million according to reports from the NYC comptroller.

Governor Cuomo is uniquely positioned to target the sources of these costs by spearheading common sense reform of laws like the Scaffold Law, which estimates suggest cost our public institutions $785m annually. The Governor could also push reform of our so-called ‘joint and several’ laws which encourage litigants to ‘sue everybody’ but most often affect our state and municipalities. We commend the Governor and AG for recognizing the problems, but now is the time to focus on the solutions.”

-Tom Stebbins, Executive Director, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York

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Contact: Phoebe Stonbely | PStonbely@lrany.org | 518.512.5265

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit association of businesses, professionals, healthcare providers, membership organizations, taxpayers, and concerned citizens committed to changing New York’s legal system to help create jobs and energize our economy.

See Press Release from the Governor’s Office on the Partnership for Litigation Risk Reduction Here

Capital Tonight Interview: Tom Stebbins on how fear of lawsuits impacts NY’s municipalities

Watch LRANY’s Tom Stebbins discuss with Nick Reisman how fear of lawsuits impacts NY’s municipalities on Capital Tonight.

Statement from Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins on Mayor de Blasio’s Recognition of Frivolous Lawsuits’ Impact on NYC

January 30, 2015

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Statement from Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins on Mayor de Blasio’s Recognition of Frivolous Lawsuits’ Impact on NYC

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio’s recognition that frivolous lawsuits are major drain on the city coffers. As comptroller Stringer recently reported, New York City spends more on lawsuits than on parks, libraries and aging combined, to say nothing of frivolous lawsuits’ impact to the private sector.

We can fix this. We need to reform the rule of “joint and several” liability (where a party 1% at fault can be held 100% liable) to a more equitable “fair share” system, where liability is proportional to fault.

We also call on the mayor to support reform of the archaic and ineffective “Scaffold Law,” which holds contractors and property owners (including the City) fully liable in lawsuits for gravity-related construction injuries regardless of any contributing fault of a worker. Disaster relief organizations like Habitat for Humanity have identified the Scaffold Law as a major impediment to rebuilding efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Affordable housing advocates have also called for reform of the Scaffold Law. The School Construction Authority has noted that they paid an additional $215m in insurance costs due to the Scaffold Law in 2014 alone, enough to build several new schools. Meanwhile, our kids go to school in trailers.

We need stop spending taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits, and start spending them on the things that really matter to New Yorkers.”

-Tom Stebbins, Executive Director, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York

Contact: Phoebe Stonbely | PStonbely@lrany.org | 518.512.5265

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The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit association of businesses, professionals, healthcare providers, membership organizations, taxpayers, and concerned citizens committed to changing New York’s legal system to help create jobs and energize our economy.

See Full PDF Statement

For Immediate Release: Lawsuit Reform Group Releases “Justice for All” Plan

LRANY

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30th, 2014
Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
518.512.5265
pstonbely@lrany.org

Lawsuit Reform Group Releases “Justice for All” Plan

For Immediate Release (Albany, NY): The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY), a nonprofit advocacy group focused on legal reform, released its five-point legislative agenda today, entitled “Justice for All: A Roadmap to Fix New York’s Civil Justice System.”

LRANY Executive Director Tom Stebbins highlighted the need for such a plan, saying “By virtually every measure, New York is the lawsuit capital of the world. We are worst in the nation for litigation risk and third highest for per-capita lawsuit costs. That costs taxpayers, kills jobs, and drives investment out of the state.” The plan addresses five areas of New York’s civil justice system which the group says contribute to lawsuit abuse and excessive litigation.

The five-point plan focuses on the following issues:

Reform the “Scaffold Law”: New York’s “Scaffold Law,” the only of its kind in the nation, imposes total and virtually inescapable civil liability upon property owners and contractors for gravity-related construction accidents. Any contributing fault of the employee for the injury is not considered in court. This has resulted in a surge of opportunistic lawsuits which have dramatically increased the cost of construction. The law must be reformed to allow liability to be apportioned according to actual fault, as is the case in all other states.

End “trial by ambush”: New York does not currently have a statewide time frame for disclosure of expert witnesses. In practice, disclosure is deliberately withheld in order to coerce defendants into a settlement without full knowledge of the strength of the case against them, which compromises parties’ right to due process. The law must be amended to require disclosure of experts prior to the point at which the case is certified as ready for trial.

Keep junk science out of the courtroom: New York’s antiquated standard of evidence predates the Great Depression, and requires only that theories of evidence be “widely accepted.” This standard is inadequate for the 21st century, and allows lawsuits predicated on unsound theories. The law must be amended to require evidentiary theories to be based on scientifically verifiable methods, as is the case Federal court and a vast majority of other states.

Link judgment interest to the market rate: In New York, judgments accrue interest at a rate of 9% annually for as long as a case is pending. This fixed rate does not account for changing market conditions, dramatically inflates award values and creates a strong disincentive for defendants to appeal a ruling. The interest rate must be linked to the federal funds rate.

Enact “fair share liability”: Under New York’s current standard of “joint and several” liability, in a lawsuit with multiple defendants, one defendant as little as 1% responsible can be held fully liable for the full amount of a judgment if the other party is unable to pay their share. New York must adopt “fair share liability,” under which liability is always apportioned proportional to fault.

Stebbins stressed the need for these reforms to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits currently advancing, and winning, in New York’s courtrooms. “We must close the loopholes in our law which allow people to abuse the legal system for profit while also preserving access to the justice system for everyone. These five reforms are critical first steps down that path.”

Stebbins highlighted the multi-billion dollar benefits of legal reform, including the creation of as many as 200,000 new jobs, $1.04 billion in new tax revenues, and $17 billion in increased economic output. “For years, New Yorkers have been calling for common sense measures to curb lawsuit abuse. Now our elected officials have a roadmap for achieving that goal.”

The 5-point plan can be accessed here.

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The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit association of businesses, professionals, healthcare providers, membership organizations, taxpayers, and concerned citizens committed to changing New York’s legal system to help create jobs and energize our economy.

PDF Press Release

-MEDIA ADVISORY- “JUSTICE FOR ALL,” A SOLUTION FOR “SUE YORK” TO BE RELEASED TOMORROW

LRANY

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For Release: Monday, September 29, 2014
Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
518.512.5265
pstonbely@lrany.org

-MEDIA ADVISORY-
“JUSTICE FOR ALL,” A SOLUTION FOR “SUE YORK” TO BE RELEASED TOMORROW

Albany, NY: New York State is often dubbed “Sue York” and is widely regarded as the most litigious state in the most litigious nation in the world. Lawsuit abuse is rampant, plaguing our economy and costing all New Yorkers. Tomorrow, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) will release a five-point plan designed to address the imbalances in New York’s civil justice system. The plan focuses on five areas of concern, including: the “Scaffold Law,” expert witness disclosure, standards of evidence, interest on legal judgments, and “fair-share liability.” The five-point plan illustrates how simple common sense changes can reduce lawsuit abuse, boost New York’s economy by over a billion dollars and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

LRANY Executive Director Tom Stebbins will be available for interview to discuss:

“Justice for All: A Roadmap to Fix New York’s Civil Justice System.”

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Contact Phoebe Stonbely: pstonbely@lrany.org or 518.512.5265 to set up an interview.

Link to PDF Media Advisory

LRANY Video Series: “Joint and Several” Liability

This week, to continue LRANY’s video series, we bring you a video on ‘joint and several’ liability.  The legal doctrine of joint and several liability is a theory which permits a plaintiff to recover damages from multiple defendants collectively, or from each defendant individually. Under this doctrine, a defendant who is only 1% responsible can be forced to pay 100% of the damages. This creates strong incentives to sue entities with “deep pockets,” such as like schools, businesses and municipalities , in the hopes of extracting a settlement.

Municipalities are often roped into lawsuits because of this joint and several .  As a recent study from the University at Albany shows, our municipalities pay over a billion dollars in lawsuits costs every year.

LRANY supports the more equitable standard of “fair share” liability, in which liability is proportional to fault.  By enacting Fair Share Liability, New York would ensure that only those that are a majority responsible would pay the full judgment, limiting lawsuit abuse against our municipalities.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YudN6DKvR5Y

Letter: Lawsuit Reform Would Aid Municipalities

pigRecently the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Phoebe Stonbely.  This piece touched on the looming issue of New York’s municipalities facing bankruptcy and looked to lawsuit reform and a ripe solution.

An Excerpt:

“As Detroit begins bankruptcy proceedings, many are beginning to worry that New York’s cities could be next. Last week, municipal leaders expressed serious concerns about our local governments’ fiscal health (“N.Y. leaders warn: ‘We don’t want to be Detroit’”, July 24).

Of course, warning signs have been evident for years now; a 2012 report by the state comptroller’s office highlighted the fiscal pressures that our local governments are facing; in 2010 and 2011, almost 300 municipalities experienced a year-end deficit.”

Read Full Piece 

New York City’s Litigation Counsel Speaks at the American Tort Reform Association Conference

By: Tom Stebbins

On Wednesday, Lawrence S. Kahn, the Chief Litigating Assistant of the New York City Law Department and a member of the Executive staff of the City’s Corporation Counsel, spoke to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) at their annual legislative conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Mr. Kahn participated in a panel discussion entitled “Limiting Municipal Tort Liability” along with current San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

Mr. Kahn’s presentation included some startling figures and anecdotes about the cases the New York City faces each year.  According to Kahn, claims against NYC have increased 2,600% since 1977, far outpacing inflation.  He highlighted slip and fall cases as a particular area of concern for the city.  Fortunately, the City Council helped relieve that burden by making sidewalk snow removal and the repair of sidewalk defects the responsibility of the property owners, not the city.  With hundreds of millions in claims every year and nearly 13,000 miles of sidewalks, this was a positive development in controlling the costs of lawsuits on the city.

Of course the City still faces a staggering amount of slip and fall cases each year.  And based on one story from Mr. Kahn, positive legislative efforts by the City Council cannot always protect taxpayers from the rapacious trial bar.  Soon after the City Council passed legislation requiring that the City have prior notice of a sidewalk deficiency, the plaintiff’s bar set up the “Big Apple Sidewalk Protection Committee” and served the city with 700,000 alleged violations across the city – potentially paving the way for up to 700,000 lawsuits.

In addition to the legislative support the city has received from the City Council, Mr. Kahn highlighted joint and several liability reform as a potential statewide legislative reform that could help relieve NYC from the burden of over $500 million in annual tort costs.

We at the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York applaud Mr. Kahn for his diligence and service to the people of New York City and thank the American Tort Reform Association for inviting him to speak on the important issue of municipal liability.

The Buffalo News: Frivolous Lawsuits No Laughing Matter

Today, The Buffalo News shared a letter written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, titled: Frivolous Lawsuits No Laughing Matter.  This letter explains the impact of a case which was recently decided against the town of Amherst, its associated municipalities and a home owner that made an exception for the inherent risk sport of rollerblading.  In New York, municipalities are far too often sued because of their deep pockets, and thanks to a New York law that can force them to pay 100 percent of a judgment even if they are only 1 percent responsible.

An excerpt:

“It is becoming clear that our legal system has lost its way. Consider the recent case of Custodi v. Amherst; in this case, which was recently decided by the highest court in the state, a roller blader injured herself after she caught her skate on the lip between a driveway and the street and fell. She promptly sued the homeowners, the Town of Amherst, the Highway Department, Erie County, the Village of Williamsville and the Department of Public Works for her injuries.

The Supreme Court of New York initially rejected her claim, agreeing with the defendants that roller blading is an inherently risky activity and that roller bladers knowingly accept this risk. Sadly, the Court of Appeals overturned that decision, holding the Town of Amherst and the private homeowners liable for her injuries.”

Read More

A Case of Our Justice System Rolling Out of Control

By: Scott Hobson

Experts aren’t quite sure when, but most people agree that somewhere along the way, our legal system lost its way. Consider exhibit A, the recent case Custodi v. Town of Amherst, in which a rollerblader injured herself after she caught her skate on the lip between a driveway and the street and fell.  She promptly sued the homeowners and a laundry list of public entities including the Town of Amherst, the Erie County Highway Department, Erie County, the Village of Williamsville, and the Department of Public Works for her injuries, claiming failure to maintain safe premises.

In an eminently reasonable and rational ruling, the Supreme Court rejected her claim, agreeing with the defendants that rollerblading is an inherently risky activity and that rollerbladers knowingly accept this risk. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state) overturned that decision, holding the Town of Amherst and the private homeowners liable for her injuries.  Custodi’s lawyers actually successfully argued that the risk of her activity was not inherent because she, an experienced rollerblader, had never encountered the hazard of a two inch differential before. It defies belief.

In New York, municipalities are often sued because of their deep pockets, thanks to a New York law that can force them to pay 100% of a judgment even if they are only 1% responsible.  Custodi’s lawyers probably expected an easy settlement from the town just to make the case go away – imagine their surprise when the town of Amherst, no stranger to big money lawsuits, stepped up to fight the case.  And as ridiculous as this lawsuit is, the fact that we’re all paying for it is no laughing matter.

New York must eliminate the rule of joint and several liability in favor of the more just and rational rule of comparative negligence, in which defendants are liable for only the proportion of the damages for which they were at fault. Moreover, we must clarify our judicial code to allow property owners to better defend themselves against lawsuits by trespassers, as is already the case in a vast majority of states. Without such reforms, New Yorkers will continue to bear the burden of runaway jackpot lawsuits.