Strong opposition from The Business Council and many other groups helped quash a number of trial lawyer-backed bills designed to expand liability and, in the process, fatten trial lawyers' portfolios and bottom lines.
Opposition to expanded liability was so strong that the broader initiative of tort reform gained considerable momentum, said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh.
As they do every year, trial lawyers aggressively championed a number of bills that would provide new opportunities to file lawsuits-and increase plaintiffs' chances of collecting huge awards.
This year, legislators rejected all such proposals, including:
- A bill to expose HMOs to malpractice liability.
- A bill to enable juries to award damages on a new, subjective basis: for bereavement in wrongful death actions.
- A bill to force defendants to pay interest on awards from the day a suit is filed, instead of the day of a verdict.
- A bill, suggested by Attorney General Dennis Vacco, designed to rig the cases in which New York is suing the tobacco industry.
These bills were strongly opposed by The Business Council, through its own lobbying and through its participation in New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform, a diverse coalition with a common interest in comprehensive tort reform.
As the session wound down, New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform spearheaded a massive effort to convince its constituents to write their lawmakers to vote no on liability expansion and yes on comprehensive tort reform.
The results were staggering: An estimated 35,000 letters flooded into Albany.
These efforts to contain liability growth ignited this coalition and generated more momentum than ever for broad tort reform, Walsh said.
"Tort reform is one of the main issues left unaddressed as the session ended," Walsh said.
"But this deluge of letters has sent lawmakers a clear message: We'll be back with a case for tort reform that's more compelling than ever," he added.
The Council supported the Volker-Morelle Civil Justice Reform Act of 1998, which called for sweeping tort reform.
New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform includes The Business Council and associations and professional societies representing municipalities, school districts, medical professionals, architects, and many other professions.