Christmas Wishes for NY’s Broken Tort System

Justice: Be Kind to Lawyers Day

Every year, New York’s civil justice system stuffs the stockings of personal injury lawyers while the rest of us to foot the bill. According to an Institute for Legal Reform report published this year, New York’s lawsuit bill $6600 per household in 2016, more than anywhere else in the country and more than the average citizen paid for gasoline in the same time period. A shocking number, to be sure, and one that will likely lead you to spit out your eggnog. Whether we were naughty or nice, each household paid $6600 in litigation related costs.

New York’s legal system puts lots of coal in our stockings each year in the form of higher medical costs, higher construction costs, and higher taxes. New York may be a winter wonderland in the holiday season, but it is also a target of more lawsuits and litigation this side of the North Pole. New York City government pays out more verdicts and settlements than the next nineteen largest U.S. cities combined.

Every doctor in New York has their goose cooked each year when they pay their insurance bill. New York pays more in medical liability payouts than the entire Midwest. That’s reason enough for every doctor in town to act like a Scrooge. And those out-sized costs are passed on to all of us, even Tiny Tim.

And all the lawyers, with visions of settlements dancing in their heads, come running to our state to sue all of us, every one. New York has more lawyers per capita than any other state, which is why you probably see more ads for personal injury lawyers than for holiday sales.

Each year, the lawyers send lots of money to the elves in Albany to ensure that the judgments and settlements continue to come down their chimney. Year after year, legislators in the state capitol introduce and pass bills on the personal injury lawyer’s list.

But here’s a legislative wish list for New Yorkers who want a civil justice system that works for all people, not just the lawyers:

  • Fix the law that allows trespassers to sue property owners – we should not be liable if someone decides to come down our chimney and ends up with an injury.
  • Fix the broken ‘Scaffold Law’ which releases workers from responsibility for injuries, even after they consumed a bit too much holiday cheer at lunch.
  • Holiday presents are a great surprise, but experts in court should not be. Under the current system, lawyers can surprise the court and juries by waiting to disclose their experts until the trial. New York needs to disclose them earlier so we know if the experts work at the Mayo Clinic or out of a sleigh.
  • Shed some transparency on the asbestos system. Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was a very naughty boy and made millions for his friends in the City’s broken asbestos court. A little starlight and transparency into this billion-dollar court could bring joy to the world.
  • End the 9% interest on judgments. Even during the appeals phase, settlements and verdicts are the gift that keeps on giving – for the plaintiffs’ lawyers, that is.
  • And speaking of interest, if someone needs a loan to make it through the holidays, and they have a lawsuit, that loan should have some consumer protections. Under the current law, lawsuit lenders can charge over 100%, enough to make the Grinch blush.

Some of the good boys and girls in Albany have already introduced bills to fix our expensive civil justice system, but too many political campaigns receive gifts and donations from the personal injury trial lawyer lobby and the lawsuit lenders. Governor Cuomo himself once called the trial lawyer lobby “the most powerful political force in Albany,” but our state government should be working for us, not the lawyers. Like Scrooge, Governor Cuomo and our elected officials need to find their better selves and finally fix our broken civil justice system.

Thomas Stebbins is the executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

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