The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) has named New York City its fourth worst “Judicial Hellhole” for 2023-2024, citing pro-plaintiff factors that include large personal injury verdicts and the state’s scaffold law.

This is NYC’s latest appearance on the annual ATRF list and the fourteenth time in the last fifteen editions that the city has made the report, which critics say is a thinly veiled tool for corporations seeking more favorable legal outcomes.

Nuclear Verdicts, Scaffold Law Figure Largely in #4 Ranking

According to ATRF, New York City is one of the worst legal venues in the country for corporate defendants due to what it considers laws and procedures that favor plaintiffs, making it easier for them to file civil lawsuits—and win big—against big businesses.

In its latest report, ATRF describes what it characterizes as “lawsuit abuse” in the Big Apple in cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York State Labor Law 240 (i.e., the Scaffold Law), food and beverage class actions, and asbestos litigation. New York’s No. 4 ranking is also based on its large number of verdicts of $10 million or more, known as “nuclear verdicts.”

New York had 151 nuclear verdicts between 2010 and 2019 totaling $5 billion, with a median award of $19M, a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found. These verdicts were concentrated in the areas of premises liability, medical malpractice, and car accidents.

A major contributor to New York’s large premises liability awards is its unique Scaffold Law. Intended to protect construction workers, the Scaffold Law subjects employers to strict liability for falls at construction sites. ATRF says that contractors and employers are “virtually defenseless” against Scaffold Law claims.

Under the Scaffold Law, construction workers and their families have the right to sue an employer or building site owner for fall-related injuries and deaths, even those that occur from a low height.

While ATRF calls for the repeal of the Scaffold Law, blaming it for excessive premises liability awards, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) calls the legislation “essential to protecting workers’ safety and health on the job” in its Deadly Skyline report.

Construction is among the most dangerous jobs in New York City. NYC construction worker deaths increased for the third straight year in 2022. From 2018 – 2020, 26% of all NYC worker deaths were in construction.

Nearly 30% of New York’s nuclear verdicts occurred in the area of premises liability, followed by medical negligence trials (22.5%) and auto accident cases (19.2%).

Critics Say Hellholes Report Advances Corporate Agenda

Normally, the “hellhole” moniker is not complimentary. But from a plaintiff’s perspective, there are reasons why New York City being named a Judicial Hellhole may not be a bad thing.

ATRF is the research arm of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), a coalition of corporations and business groups formed in 1986, writes the Chelsea News.

What you have in total becomes a collection of disingenuous and outright misrepresented anecdotes.

American Association for Justice

ATRA describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that aims to “to bring greater fairness, predictability, and efficiency to America’s civil justice system.” But critics say the Judicial Hellhole report lacks methodology and only serves to further the ATRA’s political agenda of discrediting judges and juries willing to “hold reckless corporations accountable for the harm they cause.”

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) found in 2016 that over two dozen ATRA sources for the report were newswires owned by the Chamber of Commerce—the nation’s largest corporate lobbying group and publisher of the aforementioned “nuclear verdicts” report.

“ATRA relies on opinion pieces dressed up to look like news, and written not by journalists but by ATRA affiliates and insurance executives, or by similar faux news pieces by allied groups,” said the AAJ. “What you have in total becomes a collection of disingenuous and outright misrepresented anecdotes.”

To put put the Judicial Hellhole report in perspective, if big business is coordinating an attack on New York liability laws, it could just mean that the state’s judges, juries, and lawmakers are more interested in protecting its citizens than appeasing corporations. What corporate interests call a “hellhole,” plaintiffs’ lawyers—and those they represent—might call “paradise.”

The Sanders Law Firm has the strength, resources, experience, and track record needed to take on insurance companies and other large defendants. If you were injured, we can provide the help and support you need. Call (833) SANDERS or contact us for a free case review.