Wonder why New York pays through the nose for everything from health care to construction projects to auto insurance — and taxes? A new report from the Empire Center has a one-word answer: lawsuits.

State laws here “encourage a proliferation of civil suits,” notes the report’s authors, lawyers Cary Silverman and Mark Behrens. They peg statewide liability costs at $20 billion a year, or more than $2,700 per household.

That gets passed on to the public in the form of higher taxes and prices, especially for health care and insurance; fewer buildings, bridges, schools and other projects; and less government service.

Pro-lawsuit statutes also cost the state business and jobs. This year’s US Chamber of Commerce “legal climate” survey ranks New York 29th nationally — and sinking: In just the past five years, the rank plunged 11 places; it’s now at its lowest in the survey’s 15-year history.

Take New York’s outdated, “unique in the nation” Scaffold Law. It poses “absolute liability” on property owners and contractors when a worker falls on a construction site, even if it’s almost entirely his fault.

And the awards and settlements are enormous: Last year, five of the state’s top 20 awards came in Scaffold Law cases, as did a third of the top 50 reported mediated settlements.

Indeed, so lucrative is Scaffold Law litigation that the report notes news accounts of lawyers handing out “T-shirts and other materials to workers at construction sites” in search of new cases.

No wonder liability insurance for construction projects runs three to six times higher here than in other states, running up billions in extra costs for public projects, like schools and bridges, as well as private ones. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  •  New York also “encourages” lawyers to target defendants with the most money, even if they’re the “least to blame.”
  •  In slip-and-fall cases, property owners must “prove a negative” — that they had “no notice of hazardous conditions” before an accident.
  •  The state has no cap on non-economic and punitive-damage awards.
  •  Its no-fault auto-insurance system fuels fraud and drives up rates.
  •  It lacks “reasonable limits” on medical-malpractice awards.
  •  Its asbestos-litigation court favors plaintiffs, attracting cases from all over the country. (Credit for that largely goes to Assembly ex-Speaker Shelly Silver and his “of counsel” job at Weitz & Luxenberg, a firm specializing in, yep, asbestos cases.)

Alas, many of the problems raised by the report were first cited 30 years ago by a bipartisan panel tapped by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. New Yorkers have been paying the sky-high price ever since.

Yet unless Mario’s son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the Legislature are finally ready to stand up to the tort bar, they’re sure to keep on paying — for years to come.

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About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.