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“Like a Ton of Bricks” – New York Daily News Letter to the Editor

scaffold-law-reform-new-york-state-reduce-injuryThe New York Daily News recently published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Phoebe E. Stonbely.  The letter was in response to an article highlighting NYCHA’s push for tenant jobs in Superstorm Sandy rebuilding and brought to light the wasted funds due to inaction of reforming the ‘Scaffold Law.’

Letter:

Like a Ton of Bricks
Albany: Great piece highlighting NYCHA’s Superstorm Sandy rebuilding (“Pushing for tenant jobs,” Sept. 16). One thing the article failed to note, however, is that much of the $3 billion repair fund will be wasted due to the only-in-New York Scaffold Law, which holds contractors fully liable in a lawsuit for most workplace injuries, regardless of the employee’s negligence. Disaster relief organizations like Habitat for Humanity identified the law as a major impediment to rebuilding efforts. Phoebe E. Stonbely

See full published letter here.

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

The Buffalo News – Letter: Scaffold Law Increases Injuries, Costs Billions

scaffold cashThe Buffalo News recently published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Executive Director, Thomas B. Stebbins. The letter was in response to a piece written in favor of keeping the Scaffold Law as it is. Mr. Stebbins explains in his rebuttal that a simple reform to the New York only law would alleviate the pressures the antiquated law puts on our state – increasing injuries and costing millions.

An excerpt:

“One detail never mentioned in disingenuous defenses of New York’s odious Scaffold Law (‘No need to forfeit safety to add jobs,’ May 29 letter) is that New York is the only state that still has such a law. No other state imposes absolute liability on contractors who may have, to quote the state’s highest court: “had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident.” No other state still has such a standard because it is patently unfair, costs billions and makes work sites less safe.

The most frequently used argument against reform is the fraudulent claim that the law protects workers. If the Scaffold Law improved safety, shouldn’t New York lead in safety? We don’t. Shouldn’t other states have dramatically higher injury rates? They don’t. The Buffalo News even conducted its own investigation and found that ‘the Scaffold Law does nothing of note to make the state any safer for construction workers than other states.'”

Read full letter here.

Physics? Who Needs That!

By: Scott Hobson

As if we needed another reminder of the utter absurdity – and often downright insanity – of the Scaffold Law…

Yesterday, the First Department Appellate Division issued a decision in Strojek v. 33 East 70th Street Corp., that will leave anyone with even a shred of common sense shaking their head in disbelief.

In Strojek, the plaintiff, and asbestos remediation worker, fell and was injured when his portable scaffold tipped over. His lawyers moved for summary judgement, meaning that there was no need for a liability trial because there were no conceivable set of conditions under which the defendants could avoid liability. Remember, it’s the Scaffold Law – injury: check; gravity: check; liability: slam dunk. The trial court agreed, and the defendants appealed. The Appellate court upheld the ruling.

Let’s take a closer look at the plaintiff’s claims. He claimed that the fall knocked him unconscious, and he came to on the floor with the scaffold next to him – no memory of how the fall happened. That’s awfully convenient but, in fairness, plausible. Also, there was nobody else to witness the fall; suspiciously convenient. No problem here said the court – “That plaintiff could not remember how he fell does not bar summary judgment. Nor does the fact that he was the only witness raise an issue as to his credibility…”

So we are left to speculate as to how this accident could have possibly occurred. The plaintiff didn’t claim that the scaffolding was defective. But we do know a thing or two about physics – namely, that an object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. But what force could have possibly acted on the scaffold? Perhaps the worker was attempting to move the scaffold by pushing against the wall or ceiling – certainly this method would have spared him the effort of climbing down the scaffold, moving it, securing it safely, then climbing back up to continue working (impossible! Workers never take shortcuts!).

The defense argued just that. There IS a triable issue of fact, they claimed – the most logical answer is that the plaintiff caused the accident himself, and basic physics backs that up. The court, however, wouldn’t have it. “The [defendant’s] expert’s conclusion that the scaffold tipped over because plaintiff was trying to move it while remaining on it and by using the wall or ceiling as leverage, is speculative and unsupported by the evidence” (emphasis added).

Yes, that’s right. Newton’s first law of motion, perhaps the most fundamental and well established principle in physics, isn’t good enough for the First Department.

And because of that, the defendants will be held 100% liable. It truly boggles the mind.

Response to Sheldon Silver’s Latest Indictment

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April 24, 2015

Response to Sheldon Silver’s Latest Indictment

“While the latest charges against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should outrage New Yorkers, what is more outrageous is not what is illegal, but what is legal. According to press reports, Silver’s dealings with the lawsuit lending firm Counsel Financial are under investigation, but activities of the industry itself are what should be investigated and regulated.

Lawsuit lenders in New York often charge predatory rates far above what is considered legal for any other type of loan, sometimes in excess of 100% annually. By claiming their products are ‘investments,’ they are able to dodge New York’s strict consumer protection laws. Sheldon Silver’s newest indictment shows how profitable that model can be. Tragically, consumers who take these loans often see much or all of their final settlement or award consumed by interest charges and attorneys’ fees.

This latest charge against Sheldon Silver is a wake-up call that predatory lending is alive and well in New York. We urge lawmakers, the Attorney General, and the Department of Financial Services to come together to put an end to predatory lawsuit lending.”

-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 of Statement

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

Scaffold Law Reform Advocates: Moya Bill a “Diversion”

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March 3rd, 2015

Scaffold Law Reform Advocates: Moya Bill a “Diversion”

Statement from Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York in response to Assemblyman Moya’s Scaffold Law “transparency” legislation:

Assemblyman Moya’s “transparency” legislation is nothing but a poorly-disguised diversionary tactic. Our coalition of over 60 organizations, representing businesses, builders, union contractors, affordable housing organizations, nonprofits, municipal groups, and taxpayers, has already provided tomes of national insurance data to lawmakers at all levels of government.

The data is clear: New York’s insurance costs are the highest in the nation, and the reason is the Scaffold Law. Far from earning outsized profits, insurance companies are abandoning the New York construction market entirely. We are encouraged that organized labor and the personal injury lawyer lobby has finally acknowledged the serious impacts of our astronomical construction insurance rates. Unfortunately, this misguided legislation does nothing to advance a meaningful discussion about Scaffold Law reform, which has strong bipartisan support.

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.

Full PDF Statement

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

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