Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
New York City Court Ranked #1 Worst “Judicial Hellhole” in USA
Bias, Political Profiteering Plague “Systematically Unfair” Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Albany, NY (December 16, 2014) – The 2014-15 edition of the American Tort Reform Foundation’s “Judicial Hellholes” report, released today, identifies the New York City Asbestos Litigation court (NYCAL) as the most unfair court in the nation. Since 2002, the Judicial Hellholes report has identified jurisdictions around the country where judges systematically apply court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner. While NYCAL has been identified in the past as a “Judicial Hellhole,” new developments have pushed the court to the #1 spot and into the national spotlight.
American Tort Reform Association president Tiger Joyce explained the reason for the New York court’s dubious distinction, “Troubling developments in NYCAL in 2014 have served to make an already plaintiff-friendly court inarguably so. At the behest of a powerful New York-based plaintiffs’ law firm, which happens to pay the moonlighting speaker of the state Assembly $750,000 a year, NYCAL’s managing judge revived long suspended procedures that effectively coerce asbestos defendants into settling cases. And when defendants insist on a trial and lose, they face verdicts that are much higher than elsewhere around the country.”
The report notes that the manager of the asbestos docket, Judge Sherry Klein Heitler, has adopted a series of unjust and deleterious procedures. She has reintroduced punitive damages in asbestos cases in contradiction to a near 20-year old agreement. She also allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to circumvent a requirement that they disclose claims they have filed or plan to file with trusts established by bankrupted defendants. The report also found that NYCAL judges:
- Allow plaintiffs’ lawyers to try multiple, dissimilar cases together (consolidation)
- Impose liability on one company for the products of another
- Routinely hold defendants jointly liable for a plaintiff’s entire damages award despite a New York law that provides for allocation of liability in proportion to fault
The report concludes that as a result of such practices, multimillion-dollar awards in asbestos cases tried in New York City have become commonplace. Further, the report notes that the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, is also on the payroll of one of the law firms profiting from the NYCAL imbalance, and has aggressively opposed efforts to reform the state’s tort laws.
Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Albany-based Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York underscored the seriousness of the situation in the NYCAL. “For years, we’ve seen all manner of legal shenanigans in the asbestos court, including aggressive efforts by personal injury asbestos firms to influence the court’s decision making. They have precipitated a lawsuit feeding frenzy, bankrupting American companies and siphoning millions of dollars from future victims. It’s no surprise the court was named the worst ‘Judicial Hellhole’ in the nation”
The report notes that the state’s high court has an opportunity to move the court in the right direction. “With the speaker strangling all meaningful legislative tort reforms in the cradle, mitigation of NYCAL injustices will have to come from the state’s high court. And the Court of Appeals is now considering cases involving both the unfair consolidation of asbestos cases and third-party liability, so it can and should rein in NYCAL’s plainly plaintiff-favoring bias,” Joyce urged.
He noted the New York Court of Appeals’ 2014 rejection of medical monitoring claims in the absence of manifest injury, a decision cited among the report’s “Points of Light,” as a reason to hope it will also move to restore some balance in NYCAL courtrooms.
The full 2014-15 Judicial Hellholes report can be found here: http://goo.gl/Pxnl1g
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The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit association of businesses, professionals, healthcare providers, membership organizations, taxpayers, and concerned citizens committed to changing New York’s legal system to help create jobs and energize our economy.