June 23rd, 2017

NY Leg Advances Change to “SUM” Legislation (Updated!)

The last two days I covered action in the New York Legislature to change the medical malpractice statute of limitations and make a modest change in where lawsuits can be brought (both of which still need the signature of the Governor).

Today, I cover a third piece of legislation, which while exceptionally important is virtually unknown to most. These posts come in a flurry because that’s how our Legislature works, passing bills  in a frenzy in the closing days of the annual January-June session.

This particular legislation refers to Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) insurance.

Stop!!! Don’t leave!!!  Trust me, while the issue sounds boring, it could be the difference between bankruptcy or not to anyone seriously injured.

In New York, we have particularly crappy minimum levels of insurance, known as 25/50 on non-commercial vehicles. That means that, if you are injured by someone with such minimal insurance, no matter how badly, the most you can obtain from that insurance policy is $25,000. (The 50 refers to the aggregate of all claims from the collision.)

And if badly injured, you can’t work and pay your bills. Which is why bankruptcy is not uncommon amongst those victimized. Unless you protect yourself.

Unbeknownst to most folks, there may be a second policy at play — your own — if you own a car. This is the SUM insurance if the car that plowed into you and broke your back has that minimal insurance.

Now here’s the catch, and the reason I write: The default on the SUM policies is a mere 25K. So even if you are a high earner, bringing home the family bacon, and have a $500K bodily injury policy of  your own, it won’t matter if you don’t read the fine print. Because that $500K is only to protect the person that you injure. It isn’t for yourself.

Yeah, it’s in the fine print. Most don’t know about it. Even one legislator I spoke to a couple of years ago was so unaware of it that, when her child was injured, was stuck with that minimal policy. She had no idea.

And, before I get to the legislative fix, one more point. That SUM policy only comes into play if your own policy is larger than the car that hit you. So, in other words, if the car that ran the light and clobbered you had a 25K policy, and you have a 25K SUM policy, you don’t get an extra 25K, because you would only be entitled to the difference between the two.

OK, now on to the fix. The New York Senate passed a bill (S5644A) in the waning hours of the legislative session to change the default from 25K SUM insurance for yourself to be the same as the amount of bodily injury coverage you have selected to protect others.

So if you have a 500K bodily injury policy, your default would be 500K SUM. You can, of course, decline it if you want. But most people who feel the need to buy insurance at higher levels aren’t the types of people who generally would decline.

This bill passed, as had the medical malpractice bill and the venue bill, with wide bipartisan support. And by wide I mean 62 out of 63 votes.

Unfortunately, the legislature adjourned for the session as the Senate passage came too late for the Assembly to vote. It will only come to the Assembly floor if they are called back into session, a possibility given that there is a large, unresolved issue of mayoral control of NYC schools.

Otherwise, it is wait till next year.

In the meantime, if you are renewing your auto policy, look for that part about SUM coverage and make sure you get as much as you can. It is, relatively speaking, dirt cheap, which is why your broker may not even bother to mention it to you. But it can make all the difference in your life if some underinsured car clobbers you.

And one day I’ll come back to discuss our ridiculously low 25/50 auto insurance policies.

Update (6/29/17) – Gov. Cuomo called the Legislature back to Albany for a special session, to deal with the issue of mayoral schools. And any other lingering issues.

So late last night, by a vote of 104-6, the Assembly joined the Senate in passing the SUM bill. It goes now to the Governor for signature.

This is a very big deal, as all too often we see cases of people with decent insurance getting hit by cars with little insurance, and the victims then find out to their own dismay that they could have easily and cheaply covered themselves for this event, but didn’t. Now that coverage will be the default.

 

 

June 22nd, 2017

NY Legislature Amends Venue Law for Lawsuits

New York’s counties

As the New York Legislature raced to a close yesterday, I wrote about a change in the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases.

But that wasn’t the only change that affects the personal injury field. There was also a change as to where lawsuits can be brought.

Currently, a lawsuit can generally be brought either in the county where the plaintiff resides, or the county where the defendant resides. Thus, if someone from Manhattan and someone from Suffolk were involved in an auto collision in Nassau — which sits between the two for you non-local readers — the plaintiff could choose either Manhattan or Suffolk as the venue for the lawsuit. But not the county in between where it actually happened.

But late yesterday both the Senate and the Assembly passed a bill to amend that to include also the place where that collision took place, adding the words in all caps to CPLR 501(a):

Except where otherwise prescribed by law, the place of trial shall be in the county in which one of the parties resided when it was commenced; THE COUNTY IN WHICH A SUBSTANTIAL PART OF THE EVENTS OR OMISSIONS GIVING RISE TO THE CLAIM OCCURRED; or, if none of the parties then resided in the state, in any county designated by the plaintiff. A party resident in more than one county shall be deemed a resident of each such county.


While this provides a bit more flexibility for the individual that chooses the forum, the practical application is that one may now bring suit where important eye witnesses are most likely located, thereby increasing the chance one will be able to get them into court for trial.

A good tool for the lawyer’s toolbox. The bill passed with very wide bipartisan support and now goes to the Governor for signature.

 

June 21st, 2017

NY Senate Passes “Lavern’s Law” — A Date of Discovery Law for Cancer Cases (Updated!)

A month ago I posted about New York’s need to pass “Lavern’s Law,” which extends the date of discovery in medical malpractice cases from the time the discovery of malpractice was made, or could reasonably have been made.

The problem, as I noted back then, was that some folks lost their rights due to our short statute of limitations — 2 ½ years for most cases and a mere 15 months against a municipality — before they even knew they had an undiagnosed cancer or other condition.

The Assembly had, in prior years, passed the bill. The obstruction was in the Senate.

A couple hours ago, though, the Senate passed the bill. Or at least a version of the bill.

While the original version related to discovering malpractice in general, the Senate version is restricted to undiagnosed cancers and other malignant tumors.

This is a victory for consumers no doubt, in that some of them won’t have the courthouse doors slammed in their faces before even being aware they had any rights to begin with.

The law is named for Lavern Wilkinson, who went to Kings County Hospital on February 2, 2010 with chest pain. A radiologist saw a suspicious mass on the x-ray. But Wilkinson wasn’t told.

When it was found again two years later when her complaints worsened, the 15-month statute of limitations had expired. As per the Daily News summary of the incident:

A chest X-ray found the cancer had spread to both lungs, her liver, brain and spine. The disease was now terminal.

She left behind family including an autistic daughter.

The bill had bipartisan support, and passed the Senate by a vote of 55 to 6.

Reconciliation with the Assembly is next, and assuming that happens, on to the Governor for signature.

The extension of the statute of limitations is not forever, of course. It starts to run from the date of discovery, and the time to start suit will end seven years later, even if the cancer is not discovered.

This is all very good for New York’s residents. Should they fall victim to malpractice, they have to worry less about being victimized a second time by an unjust civil justice system.

Updated: The Assembly has now passed the same bill. It goes to the Governor for signature.  He had previously been a supporter of the law.

 

May 22nd, 2017

New York’s Grieving Families

Once upon a time — like in 1847 — New York was a progressive state. We had, I believe, the first ever wrongful death statute for the benefit of families whose bread-winner was killed due the negligence of others.

And back then that was progressive.

The problem is that we have stagnated. This first-ever law has never been updated.

Essentially, if a family’s non-breadwinner is killed by the negligence of others, that person’s life — in the eyes of New York’s law — is worthless. Because there is no “economic loss” associated with the death. Mostly this means a child or retiree. Neither an infant, nor college student nor retired parent is likely to be providing an “economic” benefit in New York.

The grief of family members is, in New York, completely non-compensable.

Just as I addressed Lavern’s Law last week — the proposed legislation that measures the medical malpractice statute of limitations from the time the malpractice could reasonably have been discovered instead of when it happened — I address different legislation today.

If I can do my little part to help push New York into the 21st century I’ll be happy.

There is really no justification for telling families of the deceased that the court house doors are closed to them for their grief. Many of our sister states have such legislation. When out out-of-state lawyers call me to discuss potential wrongful death matters in New York, they are stunned to hear of the antiquated state of our civil justice system.

For many people, the courts are the only outlet for justice. We don’t encourage vigilantism, by any means, and a working, viable justice system is part of what makes a society function in a semi-civil fashion.  And having this outlet oft-times provides a small means of holding people or companies accountable so that the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else’s kid, or parent.

In the Assembly the bill is A. 1386. (Updated: and the bill has moved out of the Judiciary committee into the Codes committee last week.)

In the Senate the bill is S. 411. (Updated: the bill is stalled here).

The legislature is in session now and considering the bill.

If you don’t know your legislators, you can find them here by simply popping in your address. (Updated: Contacting your Senator is most important, since that is where the bill is stalled.)

Give a call to voice your support. It takes only a few moments.

 

 

May 17th, 2017

It’s Time to Pass Lavern’s Law (Updated)

There is little that can be more infuriating on the civil side of the law than people losing their rights before they even knew you had them.

But such is the state of the law in New York, where the statute of limitations in medical malpractice matters is calculated from the time the incident occurs — not from the time the person found out about the conduct.

‘Scuse me while I put on my advocacy hat for a moment. This won’t take long.

New York is in a deep minority of just six states that measures the time to sue from the date of the malpractice, and this hits people particularly hard if they have undiagnosed cancers.

Lavern Wilkinson, for whom the law is named, went to Kings County Hospital on February 2, 2010 with chest pain. A radiologist saw a suspicious mass on the x-ray. But Wilkinson wasn’t told.

When it was found again two years later when her complaints worsened, the 15-month statute of limitations — you read that right, people sometimes have a paltry 15 months to discover the malpractice, hire a lawyer and bring suit — had expired. As per the Daily News summary of the incident:

A chest X-ray found the cancer had spread to both lungs, her liver, brain and spine. The disease was now terminal.

She left behind family including an autistic daughter.

That 15-month statute of limitations, by the way, is for city hospitals. For others, it is 2 ½ years.

But you know what? The problem still exists. Think about this: Pap smears are done every 3 years. A misread abnormal Pap that isn’t picked up until the next one? So sorry, you’re out of luck.

The curious thing about this bill, currently pending before the New York legislature, is that it enjoys wide bi-partisan support. There is no conceivable reason why the substantial burdens of medical negligence should fall to the patient and the patient’s family. None. Zero. Nada.

And you know what else? If the hospital was private, and continues to get immunity for its conduct, it is you the taxpayer that picks up part of those costs. You. Not the hospital that was negligent.

But the bill has never been brought to the floor for a vote.

Want to do something constructive today? Contact your New York Senator or Assemblyperson and let them know that this bill should be brought to the floor for a vote.

In the Assembly, the bill is A. 3339. (Updated: The bill was reported from the Assembly Codes Committee to the floor.)

In the Senate, the bill S. 4080. (Updated: The bill is stalled in the Senate — so if you make one call, it should go to your Senator.)

And yeah, the next victim could be you. Or me. And we may not even know it.

Updated: A June 5, 2017 editorial from the NY Daily News: Legislative malpractice: Doing right by Lavern Wilkinson:

…At last count, there were 39 sponsors in the 63-member Senate, which has passed the state Assembly and would easily do so again…

The Democratic-led Assembly passed Lavern’s Law and is poised to do so again this year. Gov. Cuomo pledges his signature. But in the GOP Senate, with the bill opposed by the well-heeled Greater New York Hospital Association, [John] Flanagan has made it a dead letter, never letting it get to the floor.

The bill is carried by Republican John DeFrancisco, the Senate’s No. 2. He can — and should — file a motion for full chamber consideration, which under Senate rules requires the support of “three-fifths of members elected.” That’s 38 senators. This bill has, we repeat, 39 sponsors.