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The Syracuse Post Standard: Legal Reforms Can Make NY a Friendlier Place for Doctors

adamToday, The Syracuse Post Standard published commentary from LRANY’s Government Affairs Specialist, Adam Morey. The piece titled ‘Legal Reforms Can Make NY a Friendlier Place for Doctors‘ focused on a recent article covering a report naming New York as the second worst in the nation for doctors. In this editorial, Adam explains what drivers are pushing doctors out of our state.

An excerpt:

“It is no shock that New York is ranked so close to the bottom of the list of states for doctors to work (“NY second worst place in nation for doctors, study says,”March 29). Nearly 20 percent of all the medical liability payouts in the U.S. are paid in New York, an amount totaling more than the medical liability payouts for the whole Midwest. The fact is, the state’s high medical liability costs drive away medical professionals, reduce competition and weaken access to medical care for New Yorkers from Buffalo to Montauk.

The dominance of the trial lawyers lobby in New York state politics is largely to blame – in 2014 Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Crain’s editorial board that “the trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany.” Not only do law firms and their associated PACs pour millions into the campaign coffers of the state’s elected officials, some legislators – like convicted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – are themselves personal injury trial lawyers; Silver was well known to carry the agenda of the lawyer’s lobby, blocking common-sense reform measures from ever coming to the floor.”

Read the full article

2015 events

LRANY Announces 2015 Schedule of Events

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York is excited to announce our 2015 schedule of events.  For the first time, LRANY will be holding multiple educational and informational events throughout the year and across the state. These events will appeal to broad audiences. Both members and non-members alike are welcome to attend pending space limitations.

The events schedule is as follows:

The Daubert Dilemma, Cutting Edge Science and Law in the 21st Century
New York City | April 29, 2015

Asbestos Litigation, Business as Usual in a “Judicial Hellhole”
New York City | June 2015

LRANY Fall Meeting, Will the Plaintiffs’ Bar Pull the Sword from the Stone?
Westchester | September 2015

LRANY Annual Meeting & Key Issue Summit
Saratoga | Fall 2015

More information on all of these events is available at our events page here.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for all of our events, see our 2015 Sponsorship Opportunities here

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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

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-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

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The Buffalo News, Letter: Medical Liability Reform Will Ease Doctor Shortage

doctorToday,  The Buffalo News published a letter to the editor written by LRANY’s Executive Director, Thomas Stebbins, which targets New York’s medical liability crisis as a key factor in the looming doctor shortage our state is facing.

An Excerpt:

“Kudos to The News for reporting on the doctor shortage in upstate and Western New York. Unfortunately, the article cited “experts” saying that the reason we are facing a doctor shortage is that upstate New York lacks “amenities” and has “brutal winter weather.”

As upstaters, we know that this area is a wonderful area to live, with plenty of amenities that cannot be found anywhere else.

The real reason that doctors are not choosing upstate New York is the astronomical cost of lawsuits and medical liability insurance. New York’s medical liability payouts are the highest in the nation – more than three times the national average.”

Read Full Letter

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LRANY Video Series: Expert Witness Disclosure

This week, to continue the LRANY video series, we bring to you a video on expert witness disclosure.  The current law in New York regarding expert disclosure requires litigants to disclose their respective experts prior to trial, but offers no definitive time frame in which the disclosure must be exchanged.   Most courts throughout the state require allow this disclosure take place as late as thirty days prior to trial, making it difficult to assess the merit of a case ahead of time and leading to the widespread practice of “trial by ambush.”

LRANY supports legislation (S.4383 (Golden)/A.5221 (Galef) Disclosure of expert witnesses) which would require the party with the burden of proof to disclose its experts when they file the lawsuit. The opposing party would subsequently be required to disclose its experts within sixty days.  The proposed bill would end “trial by ambush”, reduce non-meritorious litigation , and reduce court cost.   Implementation of this measure would correct a glaring inequality in the current system, discourage frivolous lawsuits, and promote expeditious settlements.

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http://youtu.be/O7U5a7q_88w
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Pay The Witness Please

By: Michael Seinberg

Do you have anything to say that might be worth $10,000 an hour? Most people don’t. But in a recent civil case, it seems at least one witness did. The case, a simple slip and fall filed against Cablevision would appear to be pretty routine. The plaintiff claimed she had tripped and fallen due to an unfilled ditch allegedly left by Cablevision. Pretty cut-and-dried? Not really.

The attorney for Cablevision subpoenaed an emergency room doctor who proceeded to verify an entry he made in the “history” section of the hospital records. The note in question read that the plaintiff had, “Tripped over [her] dog while walking in the rain.” Oops. As you can imagine, the court ruled unanimously for Cablevision and the case was closed. However, the doctor was compensated by the defense for his time. The relevant statute on witness compensation allows for $15 per day plus $.23 per mile travel. The good doctor got $10,000 for one hour of testimony.

Not surprisingly, the court found this compensation a, “disproportionate fee for a short amount of time.” There’s an understatement. At the normal rates, that fee would have bought about 18 months of expert testimony. The court also worried that such a high fee tended to influence witnesses to testify favorably for whoever was paying them. Really? You think!? If this were a criminal case, the defense could easily have been indicted for bribery.

The fact is, New York’s expert testimony rules and procedure are archaic and often nonsensical. Consider our standard for determining what constitutes admissible scientific testimony – in most states, a comprehensive six part “Daubert” test is applied by the court: Is the theory testable? Are the tests reliable? Has the theory been peer reviewed? What is the error rate of the tests? What standards are followed during testing? Is the theory accepted as valid by the scientific community? In New York, we use the “Frye” standard, unchanged since the era of phrenology and junk science. Frye requires only one criterion be satisfied: is the theory “generally accepted?”

Or consider our expert witness disclosure rules. The law states that all parties must disclose the identity, qualifications, and compensation of their experts – but as if by some bizarre oversight, it fails to say when experts must be disclosed. So what happens? Plaintiffs wait until the eve of trial to disclose their witnesses – in other words trial by ambush. So much for the fair administration of justice.

There is a long overdue need for reform in the area of expert witnesses. LRANY is backing several proposals that would implement disclosure time frames and strengthen the standards for testimony, bringing clarity to this very murky area of the law, and keeping meritless cases out of the system to begin with. Our legal system is founded on the bedrock principal that everyone deserves a fair shot on an even playing field. Junk science and exploitative gamesmanship have no place in the halls of justice.

Legislators Introduce Bipartisan Tort Reform Bill

By: Scott Hobson, Legislative Analyst

On Tuesday, May 1st, Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D, Ossining) introduced legislation which would balance disclosure requirements for expert witnesses in lawsuits. Senator Martin Golden (R, Brooklyn) introduced the legislation in the Senate on April 13th.

The legislation would require plaintiffs to disclose their expert witnesses before a trial date can be set for the lawsuit. Defendants would be required to disclose their experts no later than 60 days after the trial date is set. Currently, New York’s civil law requires all parties in a lawsuit to disclose their experts, but incredibly, fails to set a time frame for this disclosure. This has given rise to the practice of “trial by ambush”, where plaintiffs’ attorneys wait until the eve of trial to disclose their expert witnesses, preventing defendants from preparing an adequate defense. The New York State Bar Association Committee on the Commercial Division noted that, “Trial by ambush…does nothing to further to further the pursuit of fair and efficient resolution.”

The new legislation would improve fairness, reduce frivolous lawsuits, and lower costs to the court system. Early disclosure of witnesses allows both parties to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations long before the case goes to court, rather than allowing one side to game the system to their advantage. Because all parties understand the relative merits of the case against them, frivolous lawsuits are far less likely to be settled. Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York noted, “Nothing prevents frivolous lawsuits like having to show you have a case.”

Legal scholars have long called for a timeframe for disclosure of expert witnesses.  David Siegal, the pre-eminent New York tort law scholar, noted “The statute cries out for some type of amendment to impose some kind of time period on the disclosure…” In fact, the basic elements of the legislation are already in place in the Third Judicial District of the New York State Supreme Court in the form of a judicial rule. The proposed bill would simply apply this rule statewide.

LRANY Applauds Senator Golden and Assemblywoman Galef for their leadership and commitment to a fairer, more balanced civil justice system.