This op-ed was originally published by Agri-Pulse. Mass tort litigation has become a multi-billion-dollar industry for trial lawyers over the past several decades as they’ve targeted everything from tobacco and […]
Empire State Towers Among Worst Litigation Problems in Country
Trial lawyers file endless lawsuits while legislature gives them more opportunities to sue
New York is the second-worst “Judicial Hellhole®” in the country, according to a new report.
Lawsuits targeting energy companies and blaming them for climate change, the state legislature’s insistence on passing bills to expand liability, and a record-breaking number of food-and-beverage-related lawsuits are just a few reasons for the state’s unfortunate distinction.
The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF), in its 20th anniversary edition of the annual report, expanded the designation from New York City to the entire state. It is the 12th year that a jurisdiction in New York is named as a Judicial Hellhole.
In December 2020, state AG Letitia James’s lawsuit against energy companies did not pan out as she planned, but New York City’s lawyers took up her torch. While a 2018 lawsuit claiming five companies caused a public nuisance was dismissed in April this year, a second lawsuit was filed a mere three weeks later alleging unfair trade practices instead.
“New York’s elected officials and trial lawyers seem dead set on suing energy companies one way or another to get them to pay for pet infrastructure projects,” American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) President Tiger Joyce said. “Lawsuits might fill government budget gaps and give trial lawyers a nice payday, but the unfortunate reality is that awards and settlements primarily benefit lawyers, not the individuals they claim to help or the problems that were to be solved.”
Attempts to expand liability didn’t stop with government lawyers this year, ATRF says. The report calls out numerous bills introduced and passed in the state legislature, but names A.2543/S.4730 as one of the most egregious of 2021. The bill is still awaiting the governor’s signature and would expand the state’s False Claims Act to cover everyday tax disputes, if signed.
“If this bill becomes law, it would incentivize avaricious trial lawyers to target large tax filers and fish for miscalculations to compel settlements,” Joyce said. “It would essentially allow private enforcement of New York’s tax laws. But to turn this over to the trial lawyers would be a boon to them – not taxpayers.”
ATRF reports that while New York remains a preferred jurisdiction for asbestos litigation, trial lawyers have taken to over-naming defendants in their lawsuits – one case filed in 2020 named 106 defendants.
“New York trial lawyers are now opting to sue first and discover later whether the defendants they’ve named might actually be involved in a specific case,” Joyce said. “This is yet another area by which companies are being unfairly dragged into court to suffer through costly and lengthy litigation.”
New York has edged out California for the most food and beverage lawsuit filings in the country. ATRF states that most of these are frivolous lawsuits making outlandish claims about a product’s packaging or labeling.
It could get worse yet, as the legislature is considering a bill that would encourage even more frivolous consumer protection lawsuits. A. 2495A/S. 6414 expands the consumer protection law to prohibit not only “deceptive” acts, but also “unfair” or “abusive” acts, increases the minimum statutory damages from $50 to $2,000 and permits unconnected third-party organizers to sue for the alleged harm, even if the alleged violation is not consumer oriented.
New York also led the nation in federal ADA Title III website accessibility filings with 1,694 in 2020. The runner up, Florida, only produced 302 lawsuits.
Jurisdictions in New York have been in the Top 5 worst Judicial Hellholes® for a decade and the state was named an “Everlasting Judicial Hellhole” this summer.
It’s one of eight Judicial Hellholes® in the 2021-2022 report:
- New York
- The Georgia Supreme Court
- The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
- Cook, Madison, and St. Clair Counties, Illinois
- City of St. Louis
- South Carolina’s Asbestos Litigation
Judicial Hellholes® are deemed the most unjust local courts and state civil justice systems in the country. Read the full report at JudicialHellholes.org.
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