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Hurricane Sandy Litigation Round-Up

Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by the horrible events of Hurricane Sandy. To all the first responders, members of the armed forces, and good Samaritans across the state, we express our deepest appreciation for your courage and sacrifice.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it is only a matter of time before the storm of litigation begins. With damages expected to exceed $50 billion, state and city taxpayers are certain to bear additional costs as local governments brace for a surge of storm-related lawsuits.

During the course of the storm, a construction crane attached to a luxury high rise building snapped under the severe winds and remains suspended precariously a thousand feet above the streets of Manhattan; Business Insider predicts lawsuits over lost business by nearby businesses which were evacuated. A CNBC video shows footage of the crane collapse and asks when the “blame game” will start foreseeing an “avalanche” of lawsuits following this disaster. Another video from Fox news asks what crazy multi-million dollar lawsuits will come from this tragedy.

Fortunately, those in need of an outrageously high-interest loan to finance a jackpot lawsuit are in luck: at least one lawsuit lender is still up and running, and was quick to put out an “alert” that their services were not interrupted.

Daily Freeman:Reform ‘Scaffold Law’

Today, The Daily Freeman shared a letter written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, this letter is following Governor Cuomo’s recent tour of the state-funded economic development projects in the Mid-Hudson.  Tom explains the how this funding is partially wasted due to the ‘Scaffold Law’.

An excerpt:

“Dear Editor:

Gov. Cuomo’s recent tour of the state-funded economic development projects in the Mid-Hudson was a welcome reaffirmation of his administration’s commitment to New York. However, the state’s investment in the region could have a much farther reach were it not for an outdated and costly law.

It is Labor Law 240, also known as the Scaffold Law, which automatically holds contractors and property owners fully liable in lawsuits for elevation-related accidents, even if the worker was intoxicated or ignoring safety training. Not surprisingly, New York is the only state to have such a law.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:Giuliani Emphasizes Need for Tort Reform in New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- October 24, 2012 (Washington,D.C.): Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 13th annual Legal Reform Summit in Washington, D.C., former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stressed the need for New York to enact meaningful lawsuit reform. He noted that past efforts to pass tort reform had been stalled by the powerful trial lawyer lobby, and highlighted the substantial fiscal and social costs of frivolous lawsuits.

The cost of lawsuits for New York City was hundreds of millions during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor.  Frivolous lawsuits are a major issue for local governments, with the cost of lawsuits on New York City alone estimated to exceed $730 million in the coming year.  Lawsuits have taken a toll on taxpayers and diverted resources from critical services, such as city teachers, police officers, and firefighters, noted the former Mayor.  Giuliani highlighted a case in which a criminal fleeing from the police tripped on a pothole and was awarded $70 million for his injuries. “When a jury in New York sees NYC as a defendant, they forget that they are really the defendant – that they are paying out their money and they pay out money in huge quantities,” he said.

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If You Feed a Lawyer Once, They Keep Coming Back For More

By: Michael Seinberg

Yuba City, CA has just managed to get itself out of some legal trouble and set itself up for even more thanks to an unusual and likely very costly move. “Professional plaintiff” George Louie will receive a one-time payment from the city in order that he stop suing small business owners over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Yes, you heard that right: a city will actually pay someone to stop filing lawsuits.

Yuba City small business owners have been plagued with lawsuits from Louie claiming trivial ADA violations, amounting to thousands of dollars in store upgrades and legal costs. “We’d probably have to close it down. We do not have the capital; we’re barely breaking even,” said Jayne Sawyer, owner of JJ’s Tools and Merchandise. Louie’s suits have already bankrupted a number of local businesses.

But business owners aren’t the only victims of Louie’s legal bullying. He recently sued the city itself over disability access at several intersections. Fixing the issues cost the city’s taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. “Mr. Louie has a reputation for filing numerous claims, and it’s problematic,” City Manager Steven Jeasen said.

In a desperate effort to stop Louie from bulldozing the entire city and filling his pot of gold, the city agreed to pay Louie $15,000 – from here on out he can no longer file ADA lawsuits within the Yuba City limits. He also agreed to drop any currently active lawsuits. What a guy! And what’s to stop another enterprising legal bully from moving right in and picking up where Louie left off? Or Louie simply moving on to the next CA city with threats of mounting ADA suits? Nothing!

That’s the problem. Yuba City got rid of one walking headache, but chances are they’ll end up with lots more. ADA laws, which are meant protect people with disabilities, have been widely abused by unscrupulous plaintiffs and lawyers as an endless cash machine. Lawmakers in California have tried for years to pass reforms  to stifle, stop, or stamp out lawsuit abuse, but have seen little progress in the face of opposition from the trial bar.

“We are definitely not here to be a bank for some of these advocates to continue to sue the city or local businesses,” said Economic Development Manager Darin Gale. “But in this case, we went through the process and it’s in the best financial interest of the city, and we don’t plan on doing it again.”

Their plans may change, because Yuba City just rang the dinner bell and you can bet there is no shortage of lawyers hungry for taxpayer money.

Times Union: Letter- Canceling Recess an Inane Decision

The recent news that Saratoga schools will be canceling recess highlights the unfortunate effects of litigation fears.  The Times Union shared a letter to the editor today written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, in which he discusses this situation.

“Kudos to the editorial condemning Saratoga schools for canceling recess in the name of child safety (“No recess from common sense,” Oct. 14). However, the editorial didn’t mention the very real elephant in the room: liability and the threat of lawsuits.

Schools are often the target of lawsuits. As the Times Union recently reported (“Lawsuits extract $1B from localities a year,” July 27), our municipalities pay out over a billion a year in settlements and judgments, and our schools are similarly threatened with litigation.”

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The Syracuse Post Standard: Changing Scaffold Law Would Aid Development

Today, The Post Standard shared a letter written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, this letter is following Governor Cuomo’s recent tour of the state-funded economic development projects in Syracuse.  Tom explains the how this funding is partially wasted due to the ‘Scaffold Law’.

An excerpt:

“To the Editor: 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent tour of the state-funded economic development projects in Syracuse was a welcome reaffirmation of his administration’s commitment to Upstate New York. However, much of the state’s investment in the region will be wasted due to unnecessary laws that drive up the cost of both public and private development projects. 

Among the most onerous laws is Labor Law 240, also known as the Scaffold Law, which automatically holds contractors and property owners fully liable in lawsuits for elevation-related accidents, even if the worker was intoxicated or ignoring safety training. Not surprisingly, New York is the only state to have such a law. This law is the reason construction insurance rates in New York are the highest in the nation by over 300 percent, which drives up the cost of public and private development and keeps many firms from hiring new workers.”

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220 Pound Teacher Sues Over Assault by 1st Grader

By: Michael Seinberg

Picture this in your mind. Well, at least try to. A 4’ 2” 50 pound first grader by the name of Rodrigo Carpio has a hissy fit and kicks John Webster, 27, a 220-pound gym teacher at PS330 in Queens. Result? Webster plans to sue the City of New York claiming the little beast fractured his ankle, injured his knee and forced him to see a psychologist due to stress from the incident. You just can’t make stuff like this up.

The events took place last April when Webster was leading Carpio’s class to the lunchroom and Carpio started acting up. Webster tried to get Carpio to settle but instead, the boy became physically aggressive and karate kicked Webster in the knee and ankle. Obviously, he was wearing steel-toed boots or is the reincarnation of Bruce Lee.

“I tried to hold his wrists, and he began biting me,’’ Webster said. “I took him to the principal’s office, and he kicked me in the ankle, and one kick landed right on my knee. I felt a pop.’’ Rodrigo then kicked and pinched the acting principal and school safety officer, the occurrence report states.

Little Rodrigo is now back at school this year and doing much better thanks to some medication, according to his mother. Webster, on the other hand claims he must now wear a knee brace and ankle brace, plus let’s not forget his damaged psyche. “It’s been a nightmare. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating,” said the onetime tailback for Morrisville State College. But not too embarrassing to sue the city.

This case is just another illustration that no matter what the issue, nobody is willing to just move forward with their lives and accept that bad things sometimes happen. This case will cost the taxpayers of the state, give the school a black eye (pun intended) and not really help anyone except one Andrew Siben, a trial attorney from Bay Shore, LI who is representing Webster. His take on the issue? “This kid is clearly a tiny terror,” he said. “It’s sad that teachers like Mr. Webster are not offered protection from someone who can endanger other teachers and students.” Yup, 50 pounds of pure terror.

Seems to me the real terror should be felt by the erstwhile litigator and his client at the prospect of trying to sell this story to a judge and jury. Does the phrase “laughed out of the courthouse” ring any bells here?

Newsday: Use Tappan Zee to Rid NY of Bad Law

Yesterday, Newsday shared a letter written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, in response to the news that the Tappan Zee replacement project is now eligible for federal funding.  He highlights a major issue which has been looked over in the process: the ‘Scaffold Law’.

“While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo‘s announcement of a panel of artists and architects to review the new Tappan Zee Bridge should be applauded [“New bridge could dazzle,” Editorial, Sept. 20], the governor should talk with his own policy experts about how reforming one law could save hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.

Labor Law 240/241, also known as the scaffold law, holds contractors and property owners (and in this case, the state and taxpayers) automatically liable for elevation-related injuries, even if the worker was intoxicated or ignoring safety training.”

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The Journal News: Cut Costs, Repeal ‘Scaffold Law’

The Journal News recently shared a opinion piece written by LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, in response to the news that the Tappan Zee replacement project is now eligible for federal funding.  He highlights a major issue which has been looked over in the process: the ‘Scaffold Law’.

An excerpt:

“Recent federal approval of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement is a major step forward — now, the project is eligible for federal funding. Yet, the state Legislature has failed to address one state law that will drive up the cost of rebuilding the bridge.

The law is Labor Law 240/241, the “Scaffold Law,” which holds contractors and property owners (and in this case, the state and taxpayers) automatically fully liable for elevation-related injuries, even if the worker was intoxicated or ignoring safety training.”

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To find out more about the effort to reform the Scaffold Law, visit www.scaffoldlaw.org

Brooklyn Court Rules Sanitation Worker’s Injury From Garbage is ‘Inherent Risk’

A recent ruling by the 2nd Department Appellate Division of the Supreme Court has recognized the “inherent risk” of injuries resulting from “ordinary and obvious” items in trash – a welcome measure of sanity in our state’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly legal system.

Russell Wagner, a 25 year old Brooklyn sanitation worker, was performing his normal duties of residential trash removal when suddenly, upon lifting and throwing a garbage bag, he felt something pierce his leg, causing him to drop to his knees.  After examining the bag, Wagner discovered a 1/2 inch by 3 inch piece of glass, and a piece of mail addressed to Janice and Jerry Wody. Armed with this information, he filed a lawsuit against the Wodys claiming they were negligent and responsible for his injuries.

The Brooklyn court dismissed this claim 3-1, ruling that the glass was “ordinary garbage” and a “hazard inherent” to the sanitation worker’s line of work. The plaintiff cited a recent case, Vega v. Restani Construction, in which a Bronx park maintenance worker was injured trying to remove a garbage bag with heavy construction debris. But, the majority didn’t buy it finding a clear distinction because the small piece of glass was an “ordinary” item. In the decision, the majority noted, “The law surely cannot be that homeowners can be made to answer to a jury because a sanitation worker is injured by a one-half inch by three-inch piece of glass contained in a 30-to-40-gallon waste bag that he was throwing into a garbage truck.”   

Wagner has still not returned to work, claiming the injuries have affected his walking.  An appeal is likely according to his lawyer.