New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance
Taysen Van Itallie
In early 2007, a number of New Jersey businesses and associations concerned about the lawsuit environment in the State got together to found the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance (NJLRA), a not-for-profit entity dedicated exclusively to enhancing and defending the civil justice climate in the State of New Jersey. The membership is broad and includes New Jersey-based multi-nationals in telecommunications, insurance, accounting, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and a host of other products, a broad range of business alliances from the State Chamber of Commerce through the Food Council, and includes leading physician and hospital associations as well. In March, the group hired as its executive director Marcus Rayner, a Lambertville resident with broad experience in New Jersey public affairs both in the Whitman administration and as a staffer for Congressman Ferguson.
The members of NJLRA are convinced that the lawsuit environment is hurting the State’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining businesses, professionals and proprietors who create jobs and contribute to the state’s economy and productivity. There are numerous signs that New Jersey’s economy is in serious decline. In a July 2006 report, “New Jersey’s New Economy: Growth Challenges,” Jim Hughes and Joe Seneca of Rutgers University conclude that “New Jersey faces its most uncertain economic future since the great depression.” At the same time as significant economic threats to the State’s well-being exist, there are alarming signs of deterioration in its lawsuit environment. New Jersey ranks well below the median in recent surveys of civil justice systems and recently earned a “dishonorable mention”, as a haven for litigation tourists in the American Tort Reform Association’s 2006 “Hellholes” report. New Jersey has attracted an alarming disproportion of out-of-state plaintiffs in pharmaceutical litigation, drawn to lax standards for admitting expert evidence that allow cases to proceed in New Jersey State court that would be dismissed in federal court and in many other state courts, and a consumer fraud statute which, as interpreted by our courts, is among the worst in the country – requiring neither proof of reliance on the “fraud” nor out-of-pocket damages. The thousands of plaintiffs that have flocked to New Jersey are clogging courts already struggling under a severe shortage of judges in many New Jersey counties.
The members of the NJLRA believe there should be a permanent, business-based organization intended to work systematically towards improvement in the civil justice climate and to stave off efforts to further erode the quality and neutrality of judicial proceedings in the State.
The Group’s near term objectives include
- lobbying for increased judicial salaries and more transparency in selection of judges to assure a diverse, high quality judiciary;
- defeat of an alarming effort to expand wrongful death liability to unprecedented proportions;
- obtaining legislative limits on appeal bonds so that substantial judgments can be appealed;
- improving the rules and procedures for admission of expert evidence to accord more closely with the federal system and that in many other states;
- establishing fully proportionate liability rather than partial joint and several liability;
- bringing the consumer fraud statute in line with mainstream law, and dealing with a host of other inequities in the current lawsuit landscape that unfairly tax defendants with unequal burdens and disproportionate liability.
Civil justice reform is a unique responsibility of the in-house bar. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have worked systematically and aggressively to expand the bases of liability – witness the wrongful death expansion effort – and to support candidates that share their views. Our clients are the long-term users of the civil justice system and they pay the price, if the system is unfair, in reduced competitiveness, innovation and contribution to jobs and economic output. The in-house bar thus has a special responsibility to protect the fairness of the civil justice machinery. We seek the active involvement of our in-house colleagues in this important effort, both by joining as individual members and by helping to persuade the businesses they work for and support to join NJLRA.
To learn more about NJLRA visit the website at http://www.njlra.org or contact Marcus Rayner, Executive Director, at 609-392-6557.