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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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Majority of New York Counties Call for Scaffold Law Reform

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For Immediate Release
September 22, 2015
Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
pstonbely@lrany.org
518.512.5265

Majority of New York Counties Call for Scaffold Law Reform
Citing lost jobs, cost to taxpayers, and increased injuries, county governments urge the state to act

(ALBANY, NY) – The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York along with a coalition of business, municipal, and non-profit organizations announced today that thirty-two county legislatures – more than half of the state – have passed resolutions calling on the state government to reform the “Scaffold Law” law. The law, which only exists in New York, holds contractors and property owners, including counties, 100% liable in lawsuits for gravity-related construction injuries, regardless of any contributing fault by the employee.

county reso map“This is a manifestation of the massive grassroots support for reform of the Scaffold Law,” said Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Alliance, the group coordinating the effort. “County governments know first-hand how devastating the Scaffold Law can be, and today’s news is a reflection of local governments – and taxpayers’- frustration with the corruption and status quo in Albany.”

Stebbins connected the effort to the ongoing battle in Albany for mandate relief, “The Scaffold Law is really the mother of all mandates. It adds massive, unnecessary costs to every county budget and every property tax bill. Despite Governor Cuomo’s efforts, New York is still the worst in the nation for property taxes. As local governments work to stay under the property tax cap, this is one change that would provide much-needed relief.”

The county effort began when Erie County, home to the City of Buffalo, passed the first resolution urging the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Majority Leader to reform the Scaffold Law. Since then thirty-one more counties have passed similar resolutions.

Upon hearing the news that the majority of New York counties have followed Erie County’s lead, Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo said, “I am proud that Erie County was able to lead the charge in calling for the reform of antiquated labor laws, such as the Scaffold Law. These measures drive up the cost of projects, deter development, and contribute to New York State’s reputation as being the least business friendly state. It is great to see that counties throughout the state have passed resolutions similar to Erie County’s and it is my hope that our state leaders listen and finally take action to reform labor laws. These outdated policies are no longer necessary and only hinder growth.”

The Coalition indicated that they expect several other counties to pass resolutions supporting Scaffold Law reform over the coming months. Stebbins explained, “the Scaffold Law continues to be a massive, unnecessary cost to counties and taxpayers. As more and more legislatures understand the law and its’ devastating impacts, we expect more and more resolutions to pass.”

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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 Release

For Immediate Release: Lawsuit Reform Alliance Estimates $200m in Additional Costs for LaGuardia Airport Project Due to the ‘Scaffold Law’

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For Immediate Release
July 30, 2015
Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
pstonbely@lrany.org
518.512.5265

Lawsuit Reform Alliance Estimates $200m in Additional Costs for LaGuardia Airport Project Due to the ‘Scaffold Law’
Infrastructure projects across the state costs more because of only-in-New York law

(Albany, NY) – The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, a non-profit, nonpartisan group dedicated to legal reform, says that a 100-year old state law will add about $200m in additional costs to the recently announced LaGuardia Airport rebuild. The law, commonly known as the “Scaffold Law,” exists only in New York and holds contractors and property owners absolutely, 100% liable in lawsuits for construction injuries, regardless of any contributing fault of a the worker.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo and Vice President Biden for investing in our state’s infrastructure, but unless the Scaffold Law is reformed, much of that money will be wasted,” said Tom Stebbins, the group’s executive director. “In this case, the City owns the land, so according to the Scaffold Law, the City and the Port Authority would potentially be liable for any claims — claims that might not be valid in any other state.”

Citing estimates from national contractors, the group conservatively estimates that approximately 5% of the LaGuardia project’s total cost will be spent on lawsuit claims driven by the Scaffold Law. Said Stebbins, “LaGuardia is just one project. In 2014, the New York City School Construction Authority spent an additional $215 million on insurance because of the Scaffold Law – enough to build 2-3 new schools. Statewide, the cost to municipalities is estimated to be $785 million.”

Stebbins noted that the Port Authority, which currently operates LaGuardia Airport, is already well aware of the costs of the Scaffold Law. “Data from the Port Authority shows that the claims costs on the New York side of a bridge project are twice that of the costs on the New Jersey side.” He quipped, “Maybe they should move LaGuardia to Jersey.”

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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 Release Here

Albany Times Union – Letter to the Editor: Knock Litigation out of Ballpark

no public access signThe Albany Times Union recently ran a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Thomas B. Stebbins highlighting how lawsuits against municipalities and the fear of lawsuits effects our culture and the desperate need for simple reforms.

An excerpt:

“Chris Churchill’s excellent story about how liability fears have made parks like Lake Luzerne inaccessible to the public (“Lifeguard would create a perfect beach day,” July 9) illustrates how the trial lawyers’ dominance of our state government affects us all.

Trial lawyers and the legislators that support them (sometimes one in the same) have expanded liability to such a degree that schools have canceled recess, principals have banned balls on school playgrounds, and towns have outlawed outdoor activities like sledding.”

Read full letter 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.

A Swing and a Miss from Scaffold Law Reform Opponents

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This week, the Times Union reported a story about our alleged influence on a study conducted by the Rockefeller Institute at the University at Albany and Cornell University on the cost of the Scaffold Law. In an effort to discredit the study, the Labor-backed Center for Popular Democracy filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to get my emails with the researchers.

It backfired. In those emails, I clearly state “This is not a lobbying document. Your goal is to assess the problem.” Further, when the researchers came to the conclusion that the Scaffold Law causes injuries, I questioned the hypothesis, and suggested that the data did not indicate why the Scaffold Law causes injuries, only that it does: “As of now, it seems that the data confirms the presence of the scaffold law increases injuries, but I don’t think we have any data to show the reason why.”

Opponents of reform are obviously terrified by the fact that the Scaffold Law causes injuries. Rather than working with reformers to fix this law, enemies of this past due reform are simply attacking the messenger — or in this case, messengers, which included top researchers at two renowned universities.

The data speaks for itself. If the trial lawyers or labor had data that shows that the Scaffold Law improves safety, or costs less than the billions estimated by the Rockefeller Institute and Cornell, they would have released it. They don’t have that data, because it doesn’t exist.

We hope that they, the governor, and the legislature realize that we can no longer be the only state in the nation that has a law that costs billions and causes injuries.

You can read the complete story here.

 

Schenectady Daily Gazette: Failure to Enact Tort Reform Costs Billions

Money PileThis week, the Schenectady Daily Gazette published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Phoebe Stonbely responding to an editorial by the Gazette’s staff and exposing that the figures published were indeed an even higher cost to New York’s taxpayers.

An Excerpt:

“Re July 4 editorial [“Big money follows the powerful”]: Kudos to the Daily Gazette editorial team for exposing the potential corruption behind Speaker Sheldon Silver’s questionable salary from Weitz & Luxenberg. While Speaker Silver is undoubtedly the major player preventing common-sense reforms to our civil justice system, it is not costing New Yorkers $100 million annually. In fact, the tab is running much higher.

The Institute for Legal Reform estimates that the state of New York could save up to $4.3 billion in tort costs and create between 74,000 and 201,000 new jobs by improving its legal environment. And according to a study by the Rockefeller Institute at the University at Albany, our state’s failure to reform the “Scaffold Law” alone is costing taxpayers $785 million in public costs every year.”

Read Full Letter

City & State Issue Spotlight: Law and Lawsuits

By: Kate Hobday

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This week, the legislative newspaper City & State focused nearly the entire issue on law and lawsuits. One was article entitled Better Late Than Never (page 18), and we at the Lawsuit Reform Alliance couldn’t agree more. The newspaper focused on several issues central to LRANY’s mission, including capping non-economic damage payouts, the Daubert standard, and the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases, and included interviews with legislators, lawyers and LRANY’s Executive Director, Tom Stebbins. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance was also identified as a “key player” in the fight.

The newspaper highlighted several of the problems that have made New York a perennial “Judicial Hellhole.” New York State accounted for twenty-one percent of the $3.6 billion in payouts made to plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits in 2012, making it the highest ranking state in the country for medical malpractice lawsuits. Medical malpractice laws in New York are archaic, which leads to abuse and accounts for the high rate of payouts, which were over $763 million last year alone.

New York is one of fifteen states that have no limit on awards paid for “emotional” damages to plaintiffs. This leads to an increase in the instances of medical malpractice lawsuits, as well as the amounts that are paid out. Governor Cuomo attempted to address this issue in his 2011 budget by proposing a cap on “emotional” damages in the amount of $250 thousand but the proposal was defeated by the powerful trial lawyer lobby.

As reported by City & State, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance is also advocating for the Daubert standard [See Video] to be adopted in New York State, in place of the current Frye standard. The Daubert standard grants the judge the power to determine whether or not evidence is scientifically valid as well as requiring that expert witnesses prove that their evidence is based upon scientific methods, rather than junk science. Tom Stebbins, the Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance noted that the under the current standard, costly settlements often result because defendants do not know if the “expert” witness testifying against them has actual qualifications and that their testimony on there is based scientific facts.

Legislation has been introduced in New York State which seeks to lengthen the window of opportunity for a victim to sue. State law currently holds that the period during which a victim can sue a doctor starts at the time that the medical error occurred. The proposed legislation would extend that period of time by starting it on the date that the victim discovers that there is a problem. While well-intentioned, this change would lead to lawsuits being filed many years, or even decades after an incident, dramatically increasing the cost of providing healthcare and worsening our medical liability crisis.

While premiums in other states across the country have been decreasing in past few years, New York’s premiums rose by almost five percent. This is a direct result of our archaic medical liability laws, which encourage abuse and create astronomical costs. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance will continue to be a “key player” in the fight for lawsuit reform, as there is a clear need for it in New York, and it is better late than never.

A Happy Ending to a Lawsuit

By: Michael Seinberg

old one dollarSome months ago we wrote about a New Jersey couple that was suing the town of Harvey Cedars over their use of eminent domain to construct a 22-foot high sand dune on a portion of the couple’s property. The dune later saved the home from being severely damaged or destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, but in the aftermath the suit was not withdrawn.

Well, the suit between Harvey and Phyllis Karan and the town has now been settled for $1 (and $24,000 in litigation costs being paid to the couple). The thing about this suit is that it never should have been filed in the first place. It came about after the town asked the couple for an easement to build a protective dune between the house and the ocean. The couple, suggesting such a dune would lower their property value, refused. Eventually, Harvey Cedars used its power of eminent domain to get the easement and build the dune and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not clear whether public embarrassment, common sense, decency, or something else altogether finally took hold, but the couple agreed to settle and everyone appears happy with the outcome. The state is happy because the ruling in the case will likely prevent future suits of this type from being filed. “This settlement represents an important outcome for the citizens of New Jersey, for our precious natural resources along the coast, and for the rebuilding of our Jersey Shore communities,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman in a statement.

If you’re worried about the payment for legal fees setting a bad precedent and enticing legal bottom feeders to jump into the fray, don’t be. “The reimbursement for litigation costs was appropriate in this situation because the Karans’ original complaint long predated the recent change in law by the Supreme Court,” according to the attorney general’s office. “No post-Sandy cases going forward will be treated similarly in this regard.” Problem solved.

It’s nice to see restraint and intelligence win out in a case such as this. Having your view of the ocean obstructed by a dune is an issue if you have a certain value assessed, or in your mind, based on the view. But at the same time, you have to figure the value of the house will be a lot lower if, after a super storm, it’s found in several different zip codes or floating a mile off shore.

In the future, the state should now be able to build more protective dunes up and down the shoreline with far fewer legal complications. Heck, if common sense truly prevails, those houses with protective dunes should actually go up in value.

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