U.S. Chamber Report: New York Asbestos Court's Rules Are Ripe For Exploitation By Plaintiffs' Lawyers

Rules Could Enrich Lawyers While Depleting Money For Future Claimants

August 03, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) shows rules that recently took effect at the New York County Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL) unit are prone to exploitation by plaintiffs’ lawyers and could hurt future asbestos claimants.

The report, On the Edge: New York County Asbestos Litigation at a Tipping Point, outlines how NYCAL’s new “case management order,” which in part went into effect on July 20, has the potential to deplete the amount of money left to pay future asbestos claimants. In particular, the report details how the new rules undermine defendants’ due process rights and may sustain higher verdicts and settlements in NYCAL than occur elsewhere. The paper points out that NYCAL verdicts are 315 percent higher than the national average.

“NYCAL tipping the scales of justice in favor of the plaintiffs’ bar will only hurt future claimants’ ability to secure compensation,” said ILR President Lisa A. Rickard. “The more that plaintiffs’ lawyers exploit NYCAL’s imbalanced system, the less money will be available down the road.”

Among other rules changes, On the Edge points to NYCAL’s permission of punitive damages as outside the national mainstream. The report cites arguments by asbestos defendants that punitive damages are only appropriate when they can correct or deter behavior – which, in asbestos cases, usually occurred decades ago.

Additionally, the report details how the Weitz & Luxenberg plaintiffs’ law firm dominates NYCAL both in case volume and related advertising. The firm also has its own trial dates held and dedicated for its clients, giving it greater leverage in settlement negotiations. Furthermore, former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was a member of the firm, and appointed firm partner Arthur Luxenberg to the judicial selection committee that oversees NYCAL. The report states that Weitz & Luxenberg’s leading role in NYCAL cases and New York politics led to deep relationships with the court’s presiding judges.

ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.