March 18, 2002
Assembly Republicans introduce sweeping tort-reform bill
The Assembly Republican Conference has added to the growing momentum for tort reform with a sweeping proposal that seeks to lower government costs and save taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars now lost to lawsuit abuse.
Assembly Republican Leader Charles H. Nesbitt (R-C, Albion) and other members of the Assembly minority announced the plan at a March 18 news conference. The bill is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Nesbitt and 40 other Republican Assembly members.
"Lawsuit jury awards are spiraling out of control, threatening the health of key professions. . . and ultimately increasing costs to consumers and taxpayers," Nesbitt said. "This package of reforms is aimed at putting a stop to the 'lawsuit lottery' that in reality has few winners and forces all of us to pay dearly."
The Assembly Republicans said their bill would save New Yorkers more than $5.4 billion this year alone. The bill would:
at $250,000, non-economic damages in most cases.
joint-and-several liability, under which a defendant can
be held liable for all damages in a case even if its liability
is determined to be minimal.
a 10-year limit within which product-liability suits must
be filed. Such a "statute of repose" is a long-time priority
of New York's manufacturers.
Sections 240/241 of the state Labor Law, the so-called "Scaffold
Law," to allow defendants in workplace injury cases to introduce
evidence that worker misconduct contributed to the injury.
Under the Scaffold Law, contractors and site owners are absolutely liable for all workplace injuries, no matter how negligent the worker may have been in the matter. These reforms are intended to lower costs of liability insurance for contractors and construction companies. Many are finding it increasingly difficult or impossible to find insurance.
all civil cases against municipalities, including New York
City, to be heard in the state Court of Claims. In the Court
of Claims, where suits against the state are filed, cases
are heard by judges and awards are based on established
precedents. For these reasons, the lawsuit abuse that plagues
other courts is not a factor in this court.
New York's "vicarious liability" law, under which companies
that lease cars are deemed liable in any accidents involving
the car. The state Senate has already passed a bill to repeal
- Limit the liability of local governments that seize "brownfields," or polluted properties, for non-payment of taxes.
Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh praised the bill.
"Lawsuit abuse costs New Yorkers and their governments billions of dollars a year. There will never be a better time to rein it in," Walsh said. "New York's business community applauds this effort.
"It's time to take the focus of our civil justice system off the needs of trial lawyers. Instead we must emphasize fair and reasonable compensation for legitimate victims. The Assembly Republicans' proposal would take critical steps to achieve that goal."
In 1998, The Public Policy Institute, The Business Council's research affiliate, outlined the case for tort reform in New York with its landmark report 'An Accident and a Dream.' The report showed that New York's lawsuit industry costs New Yorkers $14 billion a year, almost $800 per person. It also showed that lawsuit abuse adds hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the property-tax burden. That's because lawsuits against municipalities drive up their costs.