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LRANY Response to the Executive Budget

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April 1, 2015

Response to the Executive Budget from Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins

“We applaud lawmakers for reaching an agreement that will enhance the transparency of elected officials’ outside legal work. However, we are concerned that the new measures will do little to prevent corruption in cases where a lawmaker is representing the interests of a law firm, rather than any specific client. Furthermore, we are disappointed that our elected officials failed to seize this opportunity to pass meaningful reform to the Scaffold Law. The millions of New York taxpayers, businesses, and workers impacted by this law cannot wait any longer for relief.”

-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 PDF Release

Statement from LRANY Executive Director Tom Stebbins on Governor Cuomo’s Comments on Tort Reform

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February 26, 2015

Statement from Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Executive Director Tom Stebbins on Governor Cuomo’s Comments on Tort Reform

Governor Cuomo recently noted that tort reform legislation never gets passed by the legislature because, “There are little secrets that never sit right.” These secrets are plain to see. New Yorkers are well aware of the outsized financial influence of the personal injury lawyer lobby, which spent well over a two million dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions last year alone. Unfortunately, the identities of the clients of lawyer-legislators remain shrouded in secrecy. We commend Governor Cuomo’s efforts to bring transparency to lawmakers’ sources of outside income and urge him to take on needed reforms to trial lawyer golden eggs like the Scaffold Law – the personal injury lawyer lobby has had their finger on the scales of justice for far too long.”

-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 PDF Statement Here

THANKS FOR MAKING SCAFFOLD LAW REFORM DAY AT THE CAPITOL A SUCCESS!

SL Lobby Day CollageYesterday, almost one hundred advocates braved the winter weather to gather at the state capitol to urge lawmakers to support common sense reform of New York’s Scaffold Law. Among them were contractors, builders, small business owners, developers, lawyers, municipal officials, and advocacy groups representatives. Attendees traveled from all corners of the state, from Buffalo to Brooklyn, to make their voice heard. According to several attendees, support for Scaffold Law reform among legislators was stronger than ever, with the departure of Sheldon Silver as Assembly Speaker spurring renewed optimism.

During the morning briefing, attendees were addressed by Senator Patrick Gallivan (R, Elma) who has been a champion of Scaffold Law reform since taking office in 2011. Gallivan stressed the importance of supporters continuing to push the issue with their senators and assembly members. Louis J. Coletti, President & CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, also addressed the crowd in the morning. “Trial lawyers have become the ‘fourth branch of government,” he said. “We have more data than there is snow outside, we need to make this push now!”

After the morning session attendees split up into regional groups and had the opportunity to share their stories with their legislators and educate them on the issue. Many lawmakers, expressed support for reform, and the efforts elicited commitments of support from members who had previously been undecided on the issue.

We would like to thank everyone who attended and our generous sponsors for their help in making this day successful. Without your contributions, none of this would have been possible.  

For Immediate Release: ADVOCATES FROM ACROSS THE STATE FLOOD THE CAPITOL TO SUPPORT REFORM OF NEW YORK’S ANTIQUATED SCAFFOLD LAW

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday February 10, 2015

CONTACT: Phoebe Stonbely (518)708-3578

ADVOCATES FROM ACROSS THE STATE FLOOD THE CAPITOL TO SUPPORT REFORM OF NEW YORK’S ANTIQUATED SCAFFOLD LAW

Coalition eyes opportunity for sensible reform following recent changes in power

ALBANY, NY – Over one hundred advocates from various professions, and from every corner of New York State, convened at the state capitol in Albany, NY today for Scaffold Law Reform Day at the Capitol, to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to reform New York’s Scaffold Law.

The Scaffold Law holds contractors and property owners 100% “absolutely liable” in lawsuits for gravity-related injuries, regardless of any contributing fault of a worker. Advocates for reform are asking that the law be reformed to a “comparative negligence” standard, where the conduct of the employee is considered when apportioning liability, just as it is done in every other state and every other part of New York’s civil justice system.

“The Scaffold Law is the greatest symbol of New York’s hostility towards business. Unless we reform the law and align New York with the rest of the states, New York will continue to fall further behind.” Said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which helped organize the event. In addition to costs to private businesses, Stebbins pointed to the costs to schools, roads, and bridges.

Several attendees highlighted the flight of insurance companies as one of the primary issues with the Scaffold Law, noting that most insurance companies will not write policies in New York. “If I can’t get insurance, I can’t work,” said one attendee.

The Scaffold Law has been a source of debate in Albany for years, but the coalition of over 70 organizations sees an opportunity in the arrest of Sheldon Silver and the subsequent change in leadership. While asbestos litigation was at the heart of the complaint against Silver, the law firm involved in the scandal, Weitz & Luxenberg, also litigated Scaffold Law cases, and the trial lawyer lobby is one of the staunchest opponents of reform.

In the past year, the reform effort has garnered support from some unlikely sources, including disaster relief organizations and affordable housing advocates. The New York City School Construction Authority has noted that they paid an additional $215 million in insurance costs due to the Scaffold Law in 2014 alone, enough to build several new schools. Advocates hope that with these new sources of support and new leadership in the Assembly, this will be the year for reform.

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“The simple adoption of a comparative negligence standard—the standard that applies to all other damage claims in New York State—and which exists in all other states—would drastically cut public and private construction costs by lowering liability insurance cost. 

As a side benefit of reform, lower cost of coverage will benefit small businesses, including minority and women owned enterprises, encouraging them to enter the marketplace and participate in public construction projects. Importantly, this type of reform does not diminish any construction safety rules, and preserves injured workers’ right to file suit, with the courts determining how much each party is at fault.”

-Heather C. Briccetti, President and CEO, The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

“The trial attorneys have become the 4th branch of state government for far too long.  Reform for them isn’t about worker safety—it is about the money they earn in 240 cases. Can you tell me of any other judicial proceeding in this country—where any party to the proceeding does not have the right, if they so choose, to submit facts to a jury of their peers?  There is none except for the 240 scaffold law.”

-Louis J. Coletti, President & CEO, Building Trades Employers’ Association

“As long as New York’s Scaffold Law remains on the books, New York will never truly be open for business. This one-of-a-kind, only in the nation law places absolute liability on contractors and property owners for workplace injuries regardless of who is at fault. Rather than risk doing business in New York State and exposing themselves to arcane regulations – like the Scaffold Law, the insurance industry has fled like many other New Yorkers to states with more business friendly regulations.  As a result companies who have worked safely for years are forced to pay unbearable premiums if they are lucky, or close their businesses for good if they are not. I urge Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to open New York for business and reform the Scaffold Law this year.”

-Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO, Associated General Contractors of New York State

PDF of Press Release

Scaffold Law Coalition List and Logos

Citing Concern Over Lawsuits, Governor Vetoes “Kovacs Law”

On December 17th, Governor Cuomo vetoed “Steven Kovacs Law,” a bill which would have imposed liability on the host of a gathering in a private home to render reasonable assistance to a guest suffering from a medical emergency. Certainly, the measure was well intentioned; Steven Kovacs, the young man for whom the law was named, died of drug overdose at a party after nobody called an ambulance.

But, as LRANY has pointed out, the law was poorly conceived. In vetoing the bill, the governor expressed concerns that the bill would put homeowners at great risk of being sued, and that the threat of a lawsuit would be ineffective to spur people to act.

This makes sense. Would someone so craven and irresponsible as to stand idly by while friend lies injured or dying change their mind for fear of a lawsuit? New York already protects “good Samaritans” who provide assistance to those in need – must we now also add the threat of being sued for inaction?

LRANY applauds Governor Cuomo for vetoing this bill after careful consideration. We are encouraged to see our highest elected official rebuff the misbegotten notion that civil liability is the solution to all ills. Surely we must ensure that those in need of medical attention receive it, but piling on more lawsuits is not the cure.

You can read the full veto message here

LRANY Executive Director Statement in Response to Brooklyn Elected Officials

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“We applaud Senator Squadron, Assemblyman Lentol, and Borough President Adams on their call for steeper penalties for trespassing at New York’s landmarks and infrastructure projects. However, the greater problem is that those criminals can sue the City if they are injured while trespassing. Only in New York and California can a trespasser sue a property owner for injuries incurred while trespassing.

This is not only a burden for New York City and municipalities statewide, but also a burden to every property owner in the state of New York who pays higher insurance costs due to potential lawsuits by criminal trespassers.

We urge the Senator and Assemblyman to support common sense Trespasser Responsibility legislation to indemnify New York property owners against lawsuits from flagrant trespassers.”

Tom Stebbins

Execuitve Director

Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York

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-Supported Trial Conduct Bill Signed Into Law

Pot Plant objectionToday, Governor Cuomo signed into law S.5077 (Bonacic), supported by LRANY, which would clarify the rules relating to the conduct of an examination before trial.

The measure, introduced upon the recommendation of the Chief Administrative Judge, would allow the counsel for a non-party witness to object to the form and relevance of questioning. The current law does not allow such objections to be raised, following the Appellate Division’s ruling inThompson v. Mather (2010). In Thompson, arrangements had been made for videotaped depositions – for use at trial – of plaintiff’s treating physicians. During the course of those depositions, the attorney for a witness objected to the form and relevance of certain questions. The Appellate Division ultimately ruled that “counsel for a non-party witness does not have a right to object during or otherwise to participate in a pretrial deposition.” In the words of the NYS Supreme Court, this ruling reduced the non-party witness’s attorney to a “potted plant.”

The court’s ruling in Thompson has given rise to a troubling practice. Plaintiffs’ lawyers now commonly depose non-party witnesses before they are named in the lawsuit, allowing them to question the witness without the witness’ lawyer being able to raise objections to prejudicial or improper questions. If the deposition yields statements that are favorable to the plaintiff, the witness will be added as a party to the suit, and their statements used as evidence in court. As the Chief Administrative Judge notes in the bill’s sponsor memo, the current law, “…leaves a non-party witness essentially unprotected during a deposition. A lay witness may not, for example, know when to decline to answer a question because it invades a privilege, or is plainly improper and would, if answered, cause significant prejudice to any person.”

LRANY applauds Governor Cuomo and the legislature for enacting this critical measure to improve the fairness of civil litigation by protecting non-party witnesses from improper questioning.

Read LRANY’s memorandum in support here