July 24, 2019

New York State to change General Obligations Law

The New York State Legislature passed a law which could significantly affect defendants' rights in toxic tort litigation, in particular asbestos litigation. Currently, GOL § 15-108 allows defendants who take a verdict in a case to reduce their share of same through an offset of the aggregate amount plaintiff has received from settling tortfeasors (regardless of whether they were actually sued or not), or the settling tortfeasors' equitable share of fault, whichever is greater. The new law, which goes into effect in January 2020, requires defendants to select which remedy they will choose, the aggregate amount or equitable share, prior to beginning trial. This may significantly limit defendants' rights in asbestos cases, where plaintiffs' counsel typically settle with multiple tortfeasors during trial and often settle with several tortfeasors which they do not actually sue (i.e. bankruptcy trusts and/or large self-insured companies they have "inventory deals" with). In such situations, defendants would be hard-pressed to make their decision without knowing the identities and settlement amounts of the resolved tortfeasors, especially before knowing what an individual court's evidentiary rulings regarding them might be at trial. Please view the PDF below to read about the new law.