Late last month New York Gov. George Pataki signed into law a bill that will abolish the requirement that a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit specify at the outset (in its “ad damnum” clause) the amount in dollar damages it is seeking. New York thus becomes the latest state to adopt a measure that is relatively rare among litigation reforms in eliciting widespread support from among both defense interests (example: American Medical Association model legislation, PDF) and the plaintiffs’ bar, which is perennially embarrassed by news items such as the one cited in yesterday’s New York Times about how a woman who survived the Staten Island Ferry catastrophe has demanded $200 million for a sore back and lost sleep. Lawyers “often will pick an astronomical figure for fear that a lower number will preclude their clients from recovering damages if they win a case” — or, of course, they may be seeking the publicity that often accompanies huge demands. The state bar association urged Pataki to sign the bill, saying it “will reduce pretrial publicity about how much money is sought from particular defendants, and deals with the common misunderstanding by the general public that the amount sued for is the amount actually obtained by plaintiffs.” (Joel Stashenko, “Pataki Signs Bill Eliminating Damage Amounts In Liability Suits”, AP/Newsday, Oct. 31).