John Avlon, “Sue City”

by Walter Olson on July 15, 2009

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John Avlon, in Forbes:

New York City spends more money on lawsuits than the next five largest American cities — Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Philadelphia — combined. The city’s $568 million outlay in fiscal year 2008 was more than double what it spent 15 years ago and 20 times what it paid in 1977.

And the odd and extreme cases continue:

A Brooklyn insurance investigator won $2.3 million this year after he tumbled onto the subway tracks with a 0.18 blood-alcohol level and lost his right leg. (“They’re not allowed to hit you just because you’re drunk and on the track,” his lawyer explained.) A corrections officer received $7.25 million after unsuccessfully attempting suicide, on the grounds that the city should not have permitted her to have a gun. (“Ms. Jones could just have easily turned her city-authorized firearm on anyone,” her lawyer said.)

The piece is adapted from a contribution to a City Journal symposium, “New York’s Tomorrow”, and there’s also an associated podcast (cross-posted from Point of Law). More: Eric Turkewitz talks back from a plaintiff’s point of view (“when you account for inflation, there really hasn’t been much change at all” [compared with 15 years ago)] (& welcome Above the Law, WSJ Law Blog readers)

{ 7 comments }

1 Patw 07.15.09 at 9:25 am

This appears to be the one and only reason:

“Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is “of counsel” at Weitz and Luxenberg, a personal-injury law firm that currently has 36 lawsuits pending against the city.”

This, of course, translates to the stupidity of NY voters who would elect him. Of course, it’s also the basic flaw in democracy- “democracy works until the voters figure out that they can bribe themselves with the public treasury, which they themselves fund”, or words to that effect. I imagine the voters thinking to themselves “I don’t want to curb lawsuits because someday I will be the beneficiary!”

2 JJ 07.15.09 at 1:20 pm

The quote is “Democracy is a form of government that cannot long survive, for as soon as the people learn that they have a voice in the fiscal policies of the government, they will move to vote for themselves all the money in the treasury, and bankrupt the nation.” Karl Marx

3 Invid 07.15.09 at 3:18 pm

There’s a defense: things were just as bad 15 years ago…..

4 Ron Miller 07.15.09 at 4:13 pm

No, Ivid, I think the point is you mislead when you imply things are on the rise when, in real terms, they have not really changed. Obviously, you don’t put down that things have doubled unless you are trying to make the point that it is getting worse. Replace what he says with ‘values of cases have largely followed inflation in spite of the rising cost of medical costs which are a key component of personal injury claims” does not give you the same feel although they mean the same thing.

5 Eric T 07.15.09 at 4:43 pm

This appears to be the one and only reason:

“Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is “of counsel” at Weitz and Luxenberg, a personal-injury law firm …

Shooting the messenger is a time-honored tradition in political debate. But it doesn’t answer the fundamental problem with the type of tort “reform” as described by Avlon. It leaves the victim to shoulder the burden of injuries caused by others.

6 Dr. T 07.15.09 at 7:01 pm

New York State probably has the most ridiculous liability laws in the nation. Lawsuits per capita are bad in NYC and are worse in Long Island and Westchester County.

I was involved in a case where a drunk man let his drunk friend drive his leased Mercedes. The drunk friend lost control of the car (because he was driving over 90 mph at night), flew over a ditch, bounced, and hit a large tree. The drunk friend survived (barely) and the leasee died. So, naturally, the family were allowed to sue Mercedes and the local Mercedes dealer with some ridiculous claim about vehicle steering flaws.

A second case involved a drunk driver on the George Washington Bridge at one AM (little traffic) who manage to cross into a center construction zone (well-marked with lights and orange cones) and hit another car head on. The second car was driven by a young man high on cocaine. There were four deaths and two severe injuries. Various parties were allowed to sue to City of New York for not adequately marking the bridge construction zone.

Suing public schools is a major pasttime in NY. The legal budgets for some school systems exceed 5% of the overall budgets.

Civil lawsuits are so numerous that the average time between filing a case and going to court is six years.

Numerous attempts to modify liability laws have failed. Most NYS legislators are lawyers. The few who aren’t are lobbied heavily by trial lawyers. It’s rare to find a legislator who will propose sensible changes to liability laws.

7 kimsch 07.15.09 at 8:08 pm

Marx stole that from de Toqueville’s ‘On Democracy’:

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

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