ALBANY, N.Y. -- At the crux, the arguments for and against bills the state Legislature is considering to expand corporate liability in New York are simple.

Opponents like the Lawsuit Reform of Alliance in New York said they will make living in the state more expensive.

"We see a lot of these bills moving and it's so unfortunate because voters are saying time after time, they're so concerned about affordability but so many of these pro-lawsuit bills will increase the cost on consumers," Executive Director Tom Stebbins said.

Proponents like Mobilization for Justice, which offers free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers, said lobbyists are fear-mongering in their warnings these bills could raise costs for local governments, hospitals and insurance companies, food producers and more with the costs eventually landing with consumers. They said it's dishonest practices by large companies that make things more expensive for the public and small businesses. 

"In our legal system, the remedy that people have when they've been harmed or exploited is to use the court system to try to get their money back or to try to make themselves whole. I don't think these lobbyists are really worried about an increase in liability. I think they're worried about an increase in accountability," senior staff attorney Ariana Lindermayer said.

The highest profile of the bills is the proposed expansion of the state's wrongful death statute, which the Legislature passed Wednesday but still must be signed by the governor who has vetoed two previous iterations.

Stebbins said changes to the bill's language do nothing to address the governor's previous concerns about economic impact.

"Despite the oceans of data, lawmakers absurdly claim the fiscal impact to state and local governments will be 'none.' That's not possible," Stebbins said. "If the aim is to pay more people more money, the money has to come from somewhere. This bill should not become law without a comprehensive fiscal analysis.”

The state Trial Lawyers Assocation said it supports legislation requiring insurers to publicly produce data supporting the basis for any raise in premiums.

“The Grieving Families Act recognizes the changes the governor called for and is ready for her signature, which will at long last bring New York into step with 48 other states. Self-interested, profit-hungry insurers, who oppose this common sense reform, are raking in record profits at the expense of hardworking New Yorkers," President David Scher said.

Other liability expansion bills still before the legislation include:

  • Legislation that would broaden the definition of abusive business practices and vastly increase the minimum damage award,
  • Legislation that would allow individuals and unions to initiate public enforcement action for labor law wage-theft claim.
  • Legislation aimed at further prohibiting monopolies and allowing for anti-trust class actions.

Opponents of the bills said the proposals will bog the courts with more litigation in a state that's already a hotbed for lawsuits.

"We have the attorney general to do these kinds of things because they are looking out for the public good. They're not looking out for their own pockets," Stebbins said.

Proponents said while there are state avenues for consumer protection, they are focused on the broad public.

"They're not set up and they're not intended to help individuals with individuals problems. That is why the attorney general's office supports bills that allow people to enforce their own rights because they understand that they're not going to be able to address all of those individual complaints," Lindermayer said.

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance said these bills will encourage frivolous claims against businesses. Mobilization for Justice argued individuals have a systemic disadvantage to begin because they often can't afford representation while large corporations have attorneys on retainer.