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Letter | Lawsuits over vanilla flavoring are nothing to celebrate

To the editors,

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, New York again leads the nation in food-labeling lawsuits, thanks in part to the torrent of filings over vanilla flavoring and other food additives. (“The Jewish lawyer fighting against fake vanilla — and for 3-legged squirrels,” Feb. 10.)

The Empire State first overtook California as the favored jurisdiction for class-action trial lawyers in 2019, a trend which continued throughout 2020, according to law firm Perkins Coie.

Why New York? Lawyers are attracted to a state law that mandates a minimum $50 per class member payout when cases go to verdict, even when the product is only worth a dollar. Meaning that, as noted in an Empire Center report, “what might otherwise have been a $500 case has the potential for a $5 million award.”

This incentivizes companies to settle, often paying out millions to make the cases — and the lawyers — go away.

In a lawsuit against Vitaminwater over its “vitamins+water” marketing, lawyers walked away with $2.73 million while consumers received no compensation except a change in company labeling.

The reality is, New York residents pay $6,600 in per household litigation-related costs annually, the highest in the nation. While the attorneys rake in millions, questionable litigation increases the cost of goods and insurance premiums for the rest of us.

Tom Stebbins
Executive Director
Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York
Albany, NY

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