State lawmakers are pushing a bill that would help pad the pockets of lawyers representing clients in medical malpractice lawsuits, The Post has learned.
The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Nassau) and state Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), would boost the sliding scale of contingency fees that attorneys can collect from clients in such cases, typically filed against hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.
“The measure makes it easier for lawyers to take these cases on,” said Lavine, noting the suits are often complex and expensive to work on.
But trade groups representing hospitals and companies said the bill — which is being pushed close to the end of Albany’s legislative session on June 2 — is just a money grab by trial lawyers and their allies.
“With other self-enriching bills that trial lawyers push in Albany, they can at least make the cynical case that they also have their plaintiffs’ interests in mind, but not this one. This bill benefits trial lawyers and no one else,” said Brian Conway, spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association, which issued a memo opposing the bill.
GNYHA cites data showing New York leads the nation with medical malpractice payouts totaling $37.04 per capita, with New Jersey a distant second at $28.92 per capita.
In medical malpractice cases, lawyers do not get paid upfront by the client but receive a sliding fee based on the sum reached for a settlement or verdict. The fees have not been changed since 1985, according to the lawmakers behind the bill.
The proposed legislation would allow lawyers to accept one-third of the first $500,000 recovered in medical-malpractice settlements or verdicts, up from the first $250,000 under the current statute.
The scale would also be adjusted to 30% instead of 25% of the next $500,000; 25% instead of 20% off of the next $500,000 over $1 million and 20% instead of 15% of any amount over $1.5 million.
Attorneys could also request even higher fees from the court or plaintiff under the proposed law.
Lawsuit Reform Alliance Director Tom Stebbins said, “These bills have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with enriching trial lawyer sharks as they circle the injured and vulnerable.”
“Increased fees for ambulance chasers means less money for the plaintiffs actually filing the lawsuits,” he said. “Why does the legislature want to take money away from plaintiffs and further enrich law firms?”
Legislators have become more sympathetic to pro-medical malpractice legislation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They reversed a law approved during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 that had shielded hospitals and nursing homes from liability for COVID-related cases and deaths.
Lavine and Bailey chair the judiciary committees in the Assembly and Senate respectively, overseeing legislation that affects litigation and the court system, including lawyers’ contingency fees.
Campaign records show Bailey has received five contributions totaling $2,500 from the New York Academy of Trial Lawyers Political Action Committee since 2016. Lavine received a donation of $1,000 from the group on Oct. 29 of last year, according to records filed with the state Board of Elections.
Both lawmakers defended the legislation to fatten lawyers’ fees, a bill that has been kicking around episodically for years.
“It’s simply a matter of fairness for people who are victims,” said Lavine, who oversaw the Assembly impeachment probe of disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In a memo of support accompanying the bill, Lavine also noted that “If the attorney does not win the case, they do not receive a fee.”
Bailey, during an interview, said, “You look at what you can do to update the statute for these times.”
In his memo in support of the bill, the senator said he wanted to ensure “that victims of medical malpractice and families who cannot afford to pay an hourly rate for counsel nevertheless obtain high-quality legal representation willing to assume the risk of working on a contingency fee basis.”
Bailey, who also serves as the Bronx Democratic Party chairman, said he will listen to objections to the bill before taking any action. Lawmakers are scheduled to close the legislative session for the year this week as they seek re-election.