Big Money Flows into NY Campaigns as Lawmakers Ease Lawsuit Rules

Big Money Flows into NY Campaigns as Lawmakers Ease Lawsuit Rules

In a recent revelation, trial lawyers have strategically channeled millions of dollars into the campaign funds of New York politicians, steering legislative changes that facilitate an easier path for filing lawsuits.

The American Tort Reform Association, in a comprehensive analysis, brings to light the significant contributions made by the top 20 plaintiffs’ law firms to key political figures, including Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James, from 2017 through last year.

The top contributors to this influx of funds were Sacks & Sacks and Gair, and Gair Conason, donating over $553,000 and $538,000, respectively. Notably, the NYS Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee emerged as the largest beneficiary, receiving a staggering $864,000 in combined donations.

Other major recipients include the NYS Democratic Senate Campaign Committee ($810,000), Governor Kathy Hochul ($465,000), and the NYS Senate Republican Committee ($329,000). Ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo also secured a share, receiving $272,000 during the specified period.

The analysis underscores the correlation between these generous donations and legislative decisions. Governor Kathy Hochul, despite being among the top recipients, has occasionally rejected priorities aligned with the tort bar, recognizing potential detrimental economic consequences resulting from an expansion of liabilities.

An illustrative case is Governor Hochul’s veto of the “Grieving Families Act” in December, which sought to broaden the state’s “wrongful death statute.”

The proposed change aimed to simplify the process for families to file claims after the loss of a family member due to negligence, including in medical malpractice cases. It would have allowed families to sue for emotional damages, a provision currently limited to “economic hardship.”

Big Money Flows into NY Campaigns as Lawmakers Ease Lawsuit Rules

Despite occasional pushbacks from state leaders, the trend of passing bills that increase litigation and make payouts more lucrative for personal injury trial lawyers continues. According to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), New York City is labeled a “judicial hellhole” due to the prevalence of nuisance and costly lawsuits.

The ATRA further notes that every New York resident bears a “tort tax” exceeding $2,318 annually, attributed to excessive legal costs. This tax burden adds to the concerns of residents and businesses alike, highlighting the potential consequences of the symbiotic relationship between law firms and politicians.

In addition to campaign contributions, trial lawyers and their affiliates have reportedly spent over $97 million on more than a million local legal services advertisements across New York state in 2023. This reflects a notable increase of at least 6% from the previous year.

Prominent law firms such as Martin Harding & Mazzotti and Jacoby & Meyers feature prominently in both categories – advertising and campaign donations.

Tiger Joyce, President of ATRA, expresses concern over the close financial ties between trial lawyers and politicians, emphasizing the need for transparency. Excessive legal advertising, as pointed out by the ATRA, creates a culture of litigation, inflating costs and raising questions about undue influence.

Ashley Ranslow, New York Director of the National Federation of Independent Business, lauds the ATRA report. She highlights the trial lawyers as one of the top special interests in Albany, emphasizing the vulnerability of small employers to frivolous litigation.

Big Money Flows into NY Campaigns as Lawmakers Ease Lawsuit Rules

With small businesses already grappling with high costs, supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages, and crime, inflated insurance premiums and costly legal battles resulting from meritless lawsuits could pose additional challenges.

Ranslow emphasizes the crucial role of advocating for small businesses, including pushing back against the trial lawyers’ agenda. The concerns raised in the report shed light on the broader implications of the financial dynamics between law firms and politicians, urging a closer examination of the potential impact on the state’s legal landscape.

The intertwining of financial contributions from law firms and legislative decisions raises pertinent questions about transparency and influence in the state’s political and legal systems.

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As New York grapples with the consequences of increased litigation, the ATRA’s reports provide valuable insights into the intricate workings of what they term the “trial lawyer playbook,” urging stakeholders to consider the impact on consumers, taxpayers, and the business community alike.

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