New York’s civil liability laws should be brought closer to the national mainstream with a series of reforms designed to balance more fairly the rights of plaintiffs and defendants, according to a report released today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

New York’s tort liability system costs an estimated $20 billion a year. This is due in large part to the atypical structure of the state’s laws governing civil suits, contends the report by two Washington-based attorneys, Cary Silverman and Mark Behrens.

“Tort reform in New York has had unfinished business for more than 30 years, since the Jones Commission issued its recommendations to Governor Mario Cuomo,” said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center. “Our report identifies important priorities for bringing New York into line with the rest of the country.”

Fundamental reforms proposed by the report include:

  • Move to a modified comparative fault system, which would bar damages for plaintiffs found to have been primarily responsible for their own injuries. This would include effective repeal of New York’s unique Scaffold Law, which drives up construction costs by imposing absolute liability on property owners and contractors for all worker injuries caused by a fall.
  • Eliminate joint liability, holding defendants liable only in proportion to their actual level of responsibility for an injury.
  • Adopt reasonable constraints on product liability actions, aligning more closely with other states’ laws, as recommended three decades ago by then-Governor Mario Cuomo’s Jones Commission.
  • Limit subjective and unpredictable awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, and tie the maximum amount of a punitive damage award to the plaintiff’s injury.
  • Reduce New York’s judgment interest to a level tied to market interest rates.

Click here to read the full report.

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