April 28, 2003
Survey: New Yorkers of all genders, regions, and political parties strongly support tort reform
New Yorkers overwhelmingly want tort reform to curtail lawsuit abuse, and their support holds in every region of the state and among every age, gender and political affiliation, a new poll shows.
They survey was conducted by Strategic Moves, LLC for New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform (NYCJR), a broad coalition of interests commitment to tort reform. The Business Council is a founding member and active participant in the coalition.
Even Democratic voters living in districts represented by Democratic Assembly members support tort reform, the poll shows.
The survey shows that:
- Voters think there are too many lawsuits today by a margin of 79.5 percent to 11.3 percent.
- Voters support a cap on "non-economic" damages by 62.1 percent to 27.3 percent.
- Four of five respondents (80.4 percent) think the medical malpractice insurance crisis is increasing the cost of health care.
- More than half of respondents (56.2 percent) support a cap on non-economic damages of between $250,000 and $1 million
- Seven of 10 respondents (70.3 percent) think higher than average awards have a negative impact on the economy.
- More than three-quarters of respondents (77.6 percent) support establishing the same standard of liability for those who lease cars as those who buy cars.
Even registered Democrats represented in the state Assembly by a Democrat indicated strong support for tort reform. These respondents said that: too many lawsuits (67.4 percent); they would support a cap on non-economic damages (55.4 percent); they think higher than average awards hurt the economy (63.2 percent); they would support a cap on pain and suffering if it lowers health care costs (55.7 percent).
The tort reform movement in New York gained momentum after The Business Council's research affiliate, The Public Policy Institute, published its landmark 1998 report 'An Accident and a Dream.' The report showed that:
- The lawsuit industry costs New Yorkers $14 billion each year, or almost $800 per person, and adds hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the property tax burden, because of runaway lawsuits against municipalities.
- Tort filings in New York jumped 58 percent between 1988 and 1996, the third highest jump in the nation. A surge in motor vehicle claims in this period came despite a sharp drop in injury accidents, the presence of no-fault insurance and slow overall population growth.
- The lawsuit industry is being driven in part by a population of lawyers in New York State that is growing 26 times as fast as the state's overall population.
NYCJR supports a range of reforms, including:
repeal of "joint and several liability," under which a defendant
can be forced to pay all of the damages awarded-even if
the defendant's liability is assessed at only 1 percent.
Repealing joint and several liability is a top priority of New York City and other municipalities, which often are dragged into lawsuits because of their "deep pockets" (i.e., ability to tax their citizens).
- A cap on non-economic damages awarded in tort cases.
- A "statute of repose" to limit the period in which a manufacturer can be held liable for damages attributable to its product. The provision would limit liability to 10 years after the product leaves the manufacturer's control unless there is an express warranty to the contrary. Currently, manufacturers' liability never expires, regardless of how many times the product has been re-sold or modified.
- A measure to allow contractors and employers to defend themselves against lawsuits over worksite injuries by introducing evidence that the plaintiff's own negligence was a factor. Contractors now are strictly liable for an employee's worksite injury even if there is contributory negligence on the employee's part.
- A limit on contingency fees. New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform argues that contingency fees, which can be up to one-third of damages awarded, effectively encourage more lawsuits and are a major reason why less than half of all money spent on the liability system winds up compensating victims.
There have been indications this year that tort reform is gaining momentum.
In early March, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said tort reform could produce savings that would help all of society, especially municipalities that need savings to cope with extraordinary fiscal pressure. And the Senate has already approved a long-time tort-reform priority: repeal of the state's controversial "vicarious liability" law, under which companies that lease cars can be held liable for unlimited damages if the cars are in accidents, regardless of fault.