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Cowardly NY Governor Admits Political Impotence, Calls Trial Lawyers 'Most Powerful' Force in State

After spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a delusional national advertising campaign aimed at bringing start-up businesses to a dying state controlled by personal injury lawyers (who in their right mind would bring a business to such a state?), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has now admitted that those lawyers dominate state politics and he is powerless to push through a popular reform bill that could actually boost redevelopment efforts.

While meeting last week with the editorial board of Crain’s New York Business, Cuomo reportedly threw in the towel on bipartisan efforts this year to reform the state’s 129-year-old “scaffold law” — the only one of its kind in the nation — that assigns absolute liability for gravity-related injuries to construction company defendants in lawsuits brought by workers, even when such workers are primarily responsible for their own falls due, for example, to drunkenness or a refusal to observe posted safety precautions.

“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany,” Cuomo conceded to Crain’s.  “That’s the short answer. It’s also the long answer.”

In other words, a governor who’s running for reelection this year while also reportedly entertaining thoughts of a presidential run is so politically impotent and cowardly that he won’t dare confront the parasitic lawsuit industry — the only industry in the state that likes the scaffold law just the way it is.

As worried as business leaders are about the scaffold law’s negative impact on insurance costs and thus redevelopment and job creation, even charitable organizations and elements of the state’s political left have come out in favor of reform

In an April 22 letter to Gov. Cuomo and state legislative leaders, Habitat for Humanity CEO Neil Hetherington urged enactment of meaningful scaffold law reform, arguing that the status quo makes construction insurance much more costly in New York than it is in any other state:

“This [insurance] cost and availability crisis is exclusive to New York, as is the Scaffold Law. This is not an insurance problem; it is a New York problem. Our partners enjoy strong and productive relationships with their insurance carriers in all other 49 states, but most of those carriers will not write policies in New York due to the presence of the Scaffold Law. And there is a very large risk that in the future, the law may affect insurance coverage for Habitat affiliates both within the state and across the country should reform not be passed.”

Of course, the most powerful politician in Albany is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, not Gov. Cuomo.  And Silver is himself a personal injury lawyer who’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by one of the state’s leading personal injury law firms to thwart any and all significant tort reforms that come along, scaffold law reform included.

How Cuomo intends to convince New York voters to reelect him when he admits that he can’t even roll the personal injury bar remains to be seen.  But meanwhile, he ought to disabuse himself of any thoughts about the presidency.  Overwhelming majorities of American voters, in poll after poll, make clear that they think better of used car salesmen than they think of personal injury lawyers, so they’re not likely to support a presidential candidate who’s afraid of such lawyers.

In any case, with a New York City asbestos judge earlier this month caving into the desires of Speaker Silver’s law partners and issuing a monumental rules change that favors plaintiffs, New York seems determined to vault ahead of California and Louisiana by capturing the #1 Judicial Hellhole ranking later this year.  Stay tuned.

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