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The Journal News: Scaffold Law Driving up Costs on New TZB

This week, The Journal News published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Scott W. Hobson.  This letter was in response to a September 17 article:  Tappan Zee Bridge: State to fight EPA ruling on loan.  Hobson points to the Scaffold Law as a means of decreasing costs for the new Tappan Zee Bridge project.

An excerpt:

“The recent news that New York State has been denied more than $481 million in federal loans for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge is a timely reminder to take a hard look at the reasons infrastructure construction is so astoundingly expensive in New York.

One of the most significant cost drivers is the New York-only “Scaffold Law,” which imposes total and virtually inescapable liability on contractors and property owners in lawsuits for gravity-related construction accidents. Not surprisingly, this law is the single greatest source of litigation in New York, accounting for more than half of the highest legal settlements in 2012.”

Read Full Letter

LRANY Video Series: Most Ridiculous Lawsuit of the Month, September: Firefighter Sues Staten Island Homeowner

This week for the LRANY Video Series, Phoebe Stonbely Brings you the Most Ridiculous Lawsuit for the month of September.  A Staten Island home owner was relieved after what could have been a devastating fire when he accidentally placed paint cans too close to his furnace, only caused some smoke and minor charring.  However three years later, just week before the statute of limitations would expire, he received notice that he was being sued for injuries by one of the firefighters who had responded that day.

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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

The Poughkeepsie Journal: New York needs to reform Scaffold Law

scaffold sky flagThis week, the Poughkeepsie Journal published a letter to the editor written by LRANY Executive Director, Thomas B. Stebbins in the Valley Views section of the publication.  This letter calls on Governor Cuomo to reform the Scaffold Law in order to fulfill his claim that New York is “open for business”.

An Excerpt:

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo likes to claim that he has launched a “new New York” that is “Open for Business,” but until we scrap outdated and anachronistic laws like our notorious Scaffold Law, our state will continue to be far from business-friendly.

The Scaffold Law holds contractors absolutely liable in lawsuits for gravity-related construction injuries, regardless of any contributing fault of the worker. The employee could be intoxicated or violating safety standards and the employer or property owner could still be held 100 percent liable for any injuries.

No other state has an absolute liability standard like the Scaffold Law — and for good reason. In 2012, 16 of the 30 largest lawsuit settlements in New York were Scaffold Law related.”

Read Full Letter

 

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

LRANY Video Series: E-Discovery Reform

This week on the LRANY Video Series, Tom Stebbins brings you a video on E-Discovery Reform.

Discovery of electronically stored information (ESI), such as emails and electronic documents, has become increasingly common and important in civil litigation. However, because of the daunting volume of ESI, discovery can be extremely costly and time consuming, and the tactic of making broad discovery requests is increasingly being used to pressure defendants to settle even the least meritorious cases.

LRANY supports legislation which would clarify requirements to preserve electronically stored information and implement checks on abusive electronic discovery tactics.

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LRANY Video Series: Ridiculous Lawsuit of the Month, August 2014 – “Hell on Wheels” Strikes Again

This week, LRANY’s Phoebe Stonbely brings you the Most Ridiculous Lawsuit of the Month for August of 2014: “Hell on Wheels” Strikes Again.

Zoltan Hersch, a double amputee from Brooklyn was dubbed ‘hell on wheels’ by the New York Post after filing 87 federal lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2011. He returned this month to continue his suing spree, with a lawsuit against a New York City Ralph Lauren.

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LRANY Video Series: Trial Lawyer Political Influence

This week, to continue the LRANY Video Series, LRANY Executive Director, Tom Stebbins, brings you a video on the powerful influence of trial lawyers in our state.

See report which reviews their political spending here. 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: ADA Lawsuits, They’re Real and They’re Not Spectacular

(Albany, NY) – The iconic restaurant featured in many Seinfeld episodes was recently sued for over $30,000 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Today, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York is warning that this case is just the beginning of a flood of ADA litigation targeting New York businesses, similar to the billion-dollar ADA lawsuit industry currently bilking thousands of California businesses.

“This drive-by serial litigation that we see with ADA lawsuit abuse is despicable, often forcing small businesses to close their doors,” said Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.  Stebbins cited a recent case in Brooklyn where a personal injury lawyer sued a restaurant for a non-compliant bathroom, even though the restaurant had no bathroom at all. The lawyer could not even produce his client – evidence, says Stebbins, that these lawsuits are designed to benefit trial lawyers, not the person with a disability.

Read Full Release