Minutes of 9/16/14: Lawsuit reform

Picture 3Meeting at Quigley’s Restaurant
593 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush
October 16, 2014

ATTENDING (11): Bill Dowd, Terry Brewer, April Dowd, Dick Drumm, A.J. Amato, Debbie Brown, Peter Brown, Ray Hannan, Jim Leyhane, Roberto Martinez, Stewart Wagner.

GUESTS (3): Shannon Romanowski, Tom Stebbins, Peter Slevin.

Program: Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York

Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.
Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.

Bill Dowd introduced Tom Stebbins, executive director of the non-profit organization Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. As its name says, the 2½-year-old organization is working to gain improvements in the lawsuit situation in the state.

Tom set the stage for his talk by citing examples of frivolous lawsuits typical of those filed on a regular basis in New York:

• A woman who wanted to sue her employer for damages she caused to her own car.

• A consumer wanted to sue the Red Bull energy drink company because it did not help him grow wings as depicted in a cartoon commercial.

• A lawsuit filed against the Buffalo Bills football team because it promised three e-mails a week to fans but sent out four one week.

• A Staten Island firefighter called to a residence to investigate a suspicious odor filed suit for an alleged injury incurred on the scene, with the monetary demand “shockingly” being precisely the limit of the homeowner’s insurance.

As Tom said, “These are not crazy people filing crazy cases; They are people profiting from the system at the expense of the rest of us.”

He noted he has been called a right-wing fanatic by Sheldon Silver, the longtime leader of the state Assembly. Silver is notorious for blocking attempts in the Legislature at lawsuit reform. Another major opponent of reform is the organization New York State Trial Lawyers, many of whose members are in the Legislature.

LawsuitsTom said New York has the highest number of lawyers per resident, and except for New Jersey spends more money on lawsuit payouts than any other state. A few other targets of his outrage: (1.) Ob/gyn doctors may be sued for malpractice until a child is 18; (2.) more than 25% of lawsuits deemed “frivolous” nevertheless result in a payout; (3.) the matter of “trespass responsibility,” which means property owners are liable for any injuries incurred on their property even if the “victim” is a burglar or otherwise uninvited person; (4.) the matter of expert witnesses in court cases does not require the “expert” evidence put forth in testimony to be scientifically justifiable, only that it be “widely accepted.” Thus, for example, a podiatrist is legally qualified to testify in an ob/gyn case because they both are doctors.

One of the worst instances of what he regards as unfair law is what is commonly called the “Scaffold Law.” It actually has nothing to do specifically with scaffolds. It is a broad term for a workplace injury law that bases lawsuit outcomes on just two things: (1.) Was the injured party on a particular property?, and (2.) who owns the property? Those two questions, Tom said, are the only ones a judge may require a jury to consider in such cases — not whether there was fault with the plaintiff, not whether the defendant has an excellent safety record … in other words, if it happens on a piece of property, the property owner automatically loses the lawsuit no matter the details of the case.

Tom closed by answering several questions, and circulated a signup sheet for the Lawsuit Reform Alliance newsletter.


NEW MEMBER: President Bill introduced Shannon Romanowski, who will be joining us as a new Rotarian. Shannon, who recently succeeded former club member Patrick Ciraulo as director of the East Greenbush YMCA, gave a brief bio and said she was looking forward to being an active member of the club.

WEBSITE POSTINGS: Bill noted that a few recent website postings may be of interest to club members: (a) A first-hand report on the continuing dangers faced by polio vaccine volunteers in Pakistan; (b) results of a Rotary Young Professionals meeting to see what young members and potential members want to get out of Rotary, and (c) a White House event honoring 10 “Rotary Women of Action” for a wide range of humanitarian efforts.

ROTARY FOUNDATION DINNER: A reminder that reservations still are being accepted for “Broadway Lights Up Rotary,” this year’s Rotary Foundation dinner event to be held on the main stage of Proctors in Schenectady which recently underwent yet another multi-million-dollar renovation. The organizers promise a nice dinner, live entertainment and no stuffy speeches. Mansion Catering from Glen Sanders will prepare the meal, which will be served onstage after a cocktail reception. Reservations are $75 each for Rotarians and non-Rotarians alike. You can make your reservations simply by going online at rotary7190.org

GREAT AMERICAN MILK DRIVE: Club members were apprised of the fact that a series of TV ads has begun for “The Great American Milk Drive,” which will be the recipient in June of donations made to our “Pocket Change” jug. (There already is more than $100 in the jug.) As noted earlier, a brief video on our website explains more about the project.

ROTARY HOME COOKING: Terry Brewer, coordinator of the program, announced that four of the home-based dinners have been spoken for. The Forths will host a sauerbraten dinner on Saturday, November 8; Pat Bailey will be hosting a “Chile Night” in February 2015; the Dowds will host “A Night In Casablanca” on Saturday, March 21, 2015, and Jim Leyhane, A.J. Amato and Roberto Martinez will host a dinner at Roberto’s house featuring a professional chef sometime in April 2015. That means we still have openings for this month and January 2015.

NEXT MEETING: 6:15 p.m. Thursday,, October 23, with Roberto Martinez presenting program on “A Visit to Graceland.


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