Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a comprehensive tort reform program
that will enable New York City to level the legal playing field, gain
control of rampant tort payouts and improve the quality of life for
New Yorkers. The comprehensive package presented by the Mayor and
Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo will also provide incentives
to make sidewalks safer and allow the City to gauge better when sidewalk
and roadway hazards exist. These proposals will be introduced at the
City Council Stated Meeting on Wednesday May 8, 2002 and follow other
tort reform legislation previously introduced in Albany. In his State
of the City address in January, Mayor Bloomberg announced the City
would seek comprehensive tort reform for the City's Judicial system.
tort payouts are larger than the budgets of most City agencies,"
said Mayor Bloomberg. "In fact, they are bigger than the budget
of most municipalities in New York. In 1978, the City paid out $21
million in tort payouts. In 2001, the number had skyrocketed to more
than half a billion dollars. This money could be far better spent
on social issues including better schools, new teachers, more firefighters
and police officers, and improving our infrastructure, especially
as the City faces a fiscal crisis."
is real," said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo. "More
than 14,000 claims are filed against the City each year and 9,000
lawsuits are commenced. The City also has 47,000 pending tort lawsuits."
The Mayor's package
of reforms includes several critical elements, especially two important
bills for consideration by the City Council:
Landowner Liability or "Sidewalk" Bill -- This bill
will hold building owners liable in tort if they fail to comply
with their existing duty to repair and maintain the sidewalks in
front of their buildings and to shovel snow and remove ice. The
law, as it stands now, imposes tort liability only on the City if
a landowner fails to comply with his or her duty to maintain the
sidewalk or make repairs, giving landowners no incentive to keep
their sidewalks safe. If passed, the bill would rectify this situation
and save the City up to $37.5 million a year. It would exempt one-,
two- and three-family homes. The bill would help avoid cases like
Johnson v. the City of New York, in which a woman who tripped on
a virtually flawless sidewalk won a $2 million verdict (reduced
to $880,000 by the judge but resulting in a $1 million payout due
Prior Notice or "Big Apple Map" Amendment -- This
amendment would ensure that New York City receives fair prior written
notice for sidewalk and roadway defects. Current law requires that
the City have 15 days' prior written notice before liability can
be imposed on the City if an accident occurs. However, a company
created by trial lawyers, the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Corporation,
has created a way to manipulate the law. It contracts with a map
company, Sanborn, to produce "squiggles" on maps that
are supposed to indicate defects. Sanborn pays surveyors to walk
the streets, many of whom mark at will. Sanborn's employees have
acknowledged that BigApple has no idea if they receive training
or know what constitutes a defect. They have testified that Big
Apple does not inspect Sanborn's work. The maps offer no insight
into whether a defect is a serious hazard or if it should be repaired
promptly. Rather, the sole purpose of Big Apple is to satisfy the
legal technical requirement of prior written notice. The City received
about 5,200 maps with more than 700,000 "squiggles" last
year. Big Apple knows it is impossible for the City to inspect all
these conditions. Mayor Bloomberg's proposed amendment to the prior
written notice law would require an individual to file a detailed
report, including the specific location, nature, size and severity
of a defect. False reporting would be a crime. This amendment would
significantly advance public safety by giving the City meaningful
notice about hazards. It would enable The City to make rational,
fact-based decisions as to which defects are critical to fix and
how to best allocate precious resources.
In addition to
the Council Legislation, the Mayor has introduced several bills in
Albany to level the playing field for the City on Court actions, these
Source Bill -- This bill would prevent double recoveries by
requiring that tort awards for future lost earnings in cases against
public entities be reduced by "collateral sources," including
City disability pensions, that are received by the plaintiff. This
practice is currently employed for private employers and should
apply in the public sector. Its passage would prevent "double
dipping" by plaintiffs, ensuring they are not profiting from
tragic situations or being made "more than whole." This
would save the City over $133 million when applied to pending cases
alone. It would help prevent cases like Iazzetti v. the City of
New York, in which a Department of Sanitation employee who slipped
in a garage, injuring his back, will receive both a $1.1 million
tax-free pension benefit and a $800,000 jury award meant to compensate
him for the same loss.
-- This bill would ensure that defendants only bear their proportional
responsibility for a plaintiff's injuries. Therefore, if New York
City is only 10 percent responsible for an incident, it should only
pay 10 percent of all damages. Currently, even if another party
is primarily responsible for a plaintiff's injuries, the City is
held accountable for the entire award of economic damages. The bill
would help prevent cases like Colicchio v. the City of New York,
in which a taxi driver crossed over the 86th Street Transverse,
caused an accident and, although the taxi was held 95 percent responsible
for the accident, the City was held liable for the entire $3 million
awarded in economic damages.
of Fault Bill
-- This bill requires that if the plaintiff is "predominantly"
-- or more than 50 percent -- at fault for causing the incident
in question, he or she should not recover. This infuses a welcome
element of personal responsibility in cases and creates a proper
balance in the area of comparative negligence.
In looking at
Mayor Bloomberg's entire tort reform package, Cardozo emphasized that
the City is not removing or questioning a plaintiff's right to sue.
"Rather, the Mayor's legislation evens the playing field and
creates a fairer, more responsive system that weighs all parties'
actions and holds each side accountable as necessary."
the three main tenets of the legislation: 1) the law should put one
back to where he or she was before an accident but should not "enrich"
someone, 2) the law should create incentives for landowners to maintain
their property and rational guidelines for the City to gauge if repairs
are necessary, and 3) the law should hold defendants responsible for
only their equitable share of fault and plaintiffs responsible for
their own actions.
provide a sensible way to address the serious issues posed by the
huge growth of tort payouts, especially during the City's financial
crisis," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Tort reform has been discussed
year after year. It's time for us, the City Council and the State
Legislature to cut through the politics and put into effect creative
legislation that makes sense, gives the City a fair chance in court
and resolves this serious issue."