Editorial: New York's laws clogging courts

John O'Brien Feb. 29, 2012, 11:00am

ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - New York's laws encourage frivolous lawsuits, the executive director of a legal reform group wrote in a recent editorial.

Thomas Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York wrote Tuesday in The Palladium-Times of Oswego that court administrators facing budget cuts are scaling back court services. Lawsuits, Stebbins says, are choking New York's courts.

"Many New Yorkers may just shake their head at our overly litigious society," Stebbins wrote. "But what they may not know is that New York has a number of laws, supported by the powerful trial lawyer lobby, that make it all too easy and profitable to sue."

Stebbins notes the presence of joint and several liability, a doctrine that holds a defendant responsible for 100 percent of a jury award if its co-defendant is unable to pay the portion for which it is found liable.

Pennsylvania last year passed reform eliminating its practice. Stebbins says this rule encourages plaintiffs to file claims against as many defendants as possible.

Stebbins also wrote that hospitals and nursing homes are hounded by frivolous claims that drive up the cost of health care.

He said an independent review of closed claims by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 30 percent of malpractice claims were frivolous.

"Again, New York encourages these claims with an outdated standard of evidence well below that used in federal court and many other states," Stebbins wrote.

"For example, under New York expert witness laws, a podiatrist can testify in a neurosurgery case, and often plaintiffs do not have to even disclose their witnesses until shortly before trial.

"This encourages the practice of 'trial by ambush,' turning our justice system into a profitable game for some."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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