Reforming New York's antiquated and stifling legal system is an idea that has broad support in New York and would provide millions of dollars in economic development at no cost to the state. Indeed, by enacting lawsuit reform the government will stimulate the economy and save money, since municipalities are often the target of lawsuit abuse.
New York is one of the most litigious states in the most litigious country in the world, but there are many small changes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can support to help free our state from that dubious distinction.
The first concerns "trespasser responsibility." New York and California are the only states where you are liable if someone gets hurt while trespassing on your property. This law makes sense only to lawyers. In a recent survey, New York's litigious climate was one of the top reasons businesses don't invest in our state. Now is the time to let employers know that things are changing.
The second law is the so-called scaffold law, under which the employer is always at fault for an injury on the work site, even in cases of gross negligence on behalf of the injured. If a construction worker is drunk and falls, his or her employer is liable, not the drunk person who fell off a roof. This law is obviously a huge financial burden to the employers of our state and a drain on our economy. Quite simply, this law costs New Yorkers jobs.
Common-sense reforms of the scaffold law would exempt the employer in cases of drug and alcohol use, criminal activity or violation of safety standards.
The final piece of a strong lawsuit reform package for New York would be to cap non-economic judgments in medical malpractice cases. By capping non-economic judgments (that is, judgments above and beyond medical costs or lost wages) the governor can show health care professionals and businesses that New York is open for business.
Those who are injured as a result of an accident should be compensated for their medical bills and lost wages. It is the excessive and unpredictable nature of such things as the "pain and suffering" settlements that cause problems for the medical community and serve little or no purpose except to enrich trial lawyers.
Many states have passed similar limits to great success. New York should join them and end the current lawsuit lottery system that threatens the economic growth of our state. This will help end the mass exodus of medical professionals from our state and, by reducing the cost and unpredictability of malpractice insurance, will increase access to health care and make it more affordable for more New Yorkers.
By supporting the initiatives above, the governor can pass a package of reforms that is broadly supported, brings jobs and economic development and costs the state nothing.
Thomas M. Stebbins is executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.