Dude, Where’s My Lawyer?: attorney illness

Man sitting on a suitcase and looking through binoculars, illustrating an article about attorney illness by Richard Klass

She obtained a money judgment against a property owner for personal injuries she sustained. To collect the judgment, the injured plaintiff’s counsel retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer as special collection counsel.

Proceeding to declare there’s no homestead exemption:

Once a judgment has been entered, there are various enforcement measures available to the creditor to collect the money due on the judgment from the debtor. One of the most effective means of enforcing a Judgment is through a Sheriff’s auction sale of a debtor’s real property.

Prior to the Sheriff conducting an auction sale of real estate, there is a requirement under CPLR 5206 that the judgment creditor file a proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient equity in the real property over and above both the liens and mortgages on the property and, if applicable, the debtor’s “homestead exemption” from which the judgment may be satisfied. The homestead exemption represents a certain monetary amount of equity in a debtor’s principal residence protected from creditors.1 If the court determines that there is sufficient net equity, then an order may be entered authorizing the Sheriff to levy on the real property and conduct the auction sale.

Discovery on the issue of the homestead exemption:

In the proceeding to determine that the debtor’s house could be sold at Sheriff’s auction, the debtor claimed that the subject house was his principal residence. In response, the creditor was granted leave of court to conduct discovery proceedings on the issue of the debtor’s homestead exemption claim. Discovery demands, including interrogatories and document demands, were served upon the debtor’s attorney.

Despite having been served with the discovery demands, the debtor failed to respond to them. The debtor’s failure to respond to the interrogatories and produce documents continued even after the direction of the court in the preliminary conference order and a subsequent order. The creditor filed a motion to strike the debtor’s answer and preclude him from asserting the homestead exemption claim. Once again, the debtor failed to respond or comply. The court gave the debtor one last chance to respond. Needless to say, the debtor did not respond despite all of the chances afforded to him, and the court struck his answer and his defenses, including the claimed homestead exemption.

Debtor claims default was due to his attorney’s illnesses:

The debtor’s new attorney filed a motion with the court requesting that the order striking his answer be vacated because his prior attorney was suffering from physical and mental illnesses. The prior attorney submitted an affirmation stating that he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and was also suffering from mental illness, and that he has had to withdraw his representation in other cases.

In opposing the request to vacate the debtor’s default, the creditor argued (a) that the prior attorney failed to provide proof of mental illness; (b) from reviewing court calendars, there was no proof that the prior attorney withdrew from other cases; (c) the debtor failed to respond to discovery demands long before the default; and (d) the debtor still failed to sustain his burden of proving his claimed homestead exemption.

An attorney’s illness must be corroborated by medical documentation:

The judge laid out the criteria necessary to determine the debtor’s motion to vacate his default based upon the claim of his attorney’s illness, stating as follows:

“The illness of a party’s attorney, when corroborated by medical documentation, including the affirmation of a physician, suffices as a reasonable excuse for vacatur of a default. (Pierot v. Leonard, 154 AD3d 791 [2d Dept. 2017]; Weitzenberg v. Nassau County Dept. of Recreation & Parks, 29 AD3d 683 [2d Dept. 2006]; Norowitz v. Ponconco, Inc., 96 AD2d 581 [2d Dept. 1983]. [The attorney’s] alleged physical and mental health issues are not established by a doctor’s affirmation and therefore do not serve as a reasonable excuse to vacate the default. Nonetheless, [the attorney’s] initial default occurred prior to the alleged June 20th date of diagnosis, and [the attorney] fails to submit detailed submissions explaining the respondent’s delays in responding to the petitioner’s discovery demands, in complying with the court’s February 27th order mandating discovery, as well as his failure to oppose the petitioner’s April 16th motion to strike (compare with Hageman v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 25 AD3d 760 [2d Dept. 2006].

Finally, the Court notes that respondent’s Answer was stricken and judgment entered after a history of noncompliance with orders to produce discovery essential to this litigation. . . . The Court finds that given the history of this litigation, the explanation proferred by respondent and his former counsel is vague, unsubstantiated and incredible, and does not constitute a reasonable excuse for respondent’s default (see Herrera v. MTA Bus Co., 100 AD3d 962 [2d Dept. 2012]); Wells Fargo Bank, NA v. Cervini, 84 AD3d 789 [2d Dept. 2011]. Given the Court of Appeals’ guidance in Gibbs v. St. Barnabas Hospital, 16 NY3d 74 [2010], as well as Second Department case law cited above, the Court finds it would be an improvident use of its discretion to vacate the default judgment in light of respondent’s history of default and noncompliance. Further, prior counsel’s alleged illness, which constituted the excuse for the default, only accounted for a small period of time in which respondent was to have provided discovery.”

The judge found that the petition was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and granted the petition directing the sale of the debtor’s 100% interest in the real property.

Footnotes:
1 Currently, a judgment debtor’s “homestead exemption” amount depends on which county the property is located, which is as follows:

  • $170,825 if the property is in the counties of Kings, Queens, New York, Bronx, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, or Putnam.
  • $142,350 if the property is in the counties of Dutchess, Albany, Columbia, Orange, Saratoga or Ulster.
  • $85,400 if the property is in any other county.

R. A. Klass
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Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

…plaintiff could not establish liability because he could not prove the underlying action.

In Blair v Loduca, 164 AD3d 637, 638-40 [2d Dept 2018], the Second Department considered the argument made by the defendant-attorney sued for legal malpractice that the plaintiff could not establish liability because he could not prove the underlying action.

“ To establish the required element of causation in a legal malpractice action, ‘ a plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action … but for the lawyer’s negligence ’ ” (Balan v. Rooney, 152 A.D.3d 733, 733, 61 N.Y.S.3d 29, quoting Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; see Detoni v. McMinkens, 147 A.D.3d 1018, 48 N.Y.S.3d 208). The only issue raised in the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was whether the plaintiff could have prevailed in the underlying action against the property owner.

In a premises liability case, a defendant property owner who moves for summary judgment has the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that it neither created the allegedly *639 dangerous or defective condition nor had actual or constructive notice of its existence (see Martino v. Patmar Props., Inc., 123 A.D.3d 890, 890, 999 N.Y.S.2d 449; Kruger v. Donzelli Realty Corp., 111 A.D.3d 897, 975 N.Y.S.2d 689; Smith v. Christ’s First Presbyt. Church of Hempstead, 93 A.D.3d 839, 941 N.Y.S.2d 211; Meyers v. Big Six Towers, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 877, 925 N.Y.S.2d 607). “ Under the so-called ‘ storm in progress ’ rule, a property owner will not be held responsible for accidents occurring as a result of the accumulation of snow and ice on its premises until an adequate period of time has passed following the cessation of the storm to allow the owner an opportunity to ameliorate the hazards caused by the storm ” (Marchese v. Skenderi, 51 A.D.3d 642, 642, 856 N.Y.S.2d 680; see Solazzo v. New York City Tr. Auth., 6 N.Y.3d 734, 810 N.Y.S.2d 121, 843 N.E.2d 748; Dumela–Felix v. FGP W. St., LLC, 135 A.D.3d 809, 810, 22 N.Y.S.3d 896; McCurdy v. Kyma Holdings, LLC, 109 A.D.3d 799, 799, 971 N.Y.S.2d 137; Smith v. Christ’s First Presbyt. Church of Hempstead, 93 A.D.3d 839, 840, 941 N.Y.S.2d 211; Weller v. Paul, 91 A.D.3d 945, 947, 938 N.Y.S.2d 152; Mazzella v. City of New York, 72 A.D.3d 755, 756, 899 N.Y.S.2d 291). If a storm is ongoing, and a property owner elects to remove snow, the owner must do so with reasonable care or it could be held liable for creating a hazardous condition or exacerbating a natural hazard created by the storm (see Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640; Petrocelli v. Marrelli Dev. Corp., 31 A.D.3d 623, 817 N.Y.S.2d 913; Salvanti v. Sunset Indus. Park Assoc., 27 A.D.3d 546, 813 N.Y.S.2d 110; Chaudhry v. East Buffet & Rest., 24 A.D.3d 493, 808 N.Y.S.2d 239). In such an instance, that property owner, if moving for summary judgment in a slip-and-fall case, must demonstrate in support of his or her motion that the snow removal efforts he or she undertook neither created nor exacerbated the allegedly hazardous condition which caused the injured plaintiff to fall (see Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d at 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640).

In support of their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint in this action, the defendants submitted the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, the deposition testimony of the building’s doorman, the affidavit of a meteorologist, and certified climatological data. These submissions demonstrated that a storm was in progress at the time of the accident, that there was no preexisting ice on the ground when the storm commenced, and that the property owner did not create or exacerbate the allegedly dangerous condition created by the storm in progress (see Aronov v. St. Vincent’s Hous. Dev. Fund Co., Inc., 145 A.D.3d 648, 649, 43 N.Y.S.3d 99; **135 Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d at 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640; Ali v. Village of Pleasantville, 95 A.D.3d 796, 797, 943 N.Y.S.2d 582). Since the defendants made a prima facie showing that the storm in progress rule applied *640 to the underlying action, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to show that something other than the precipitation from the storm in progress caused the accident (see Baker v. St. Christopher’s Inn, Inc., 138 A.D.3d 652, 653, 29 N.Y.S.3d 439; Burniston v. Ranric Enters. Corp., 134 A.D.3d 973, 974, 21 N.Y.S.3d 694; Meyers v. Big Six Towers, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 877, 877–878, 925 N.Y.S.2d 607; Alers v. La Bonne Vie Org., 54 A.D.3d 698, 699, 863 N.Y.S.2d 750). The plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint because the plaintiff could not have prevailed in the underlying action against the property owner (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d at 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Balan v. Rooney, 152 A.D.3d at 733, 61 N.Y.S.3d 29; Detoni v. McMinkens, 147 A.D.3d at 1018, 48 N.Y.S.3d 208).

R. A. Klass
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Liability for not having safety devices

Binding precedents from all four Departments of the Appellate Division, including Second Department precedents hold that where it is uncontested that the plaintiff was injured as a result of falling from a ladder, and “at the time of his fall, there were no safety belts, nets, or other safety devices in the area, and he was not equipped with any safety devices. Under the circumstances, the plaintiff established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability on the cause of action pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1)” Denis v. City of New York, 54 A.D.3d 803, 803-804, 863 N.Y.S.2d 773, 773-774 (2d Dep’t 2008); see Lesisz v. Salvation Army, 40 A.D.3d 1050, 837 N.Y.S.2d 238, 240 (2d Dep’t 2007); Velasco v. Green Wood Cemetery, 8 A.D.3d 88, 89, 779 N.Y.S.2d 459, 459-460 (1st Dep’t 2004).

In Velasco, 8 A.D.3d at 89, 779 N.Y.S.2d at 459-460, the Appellate Division, First Department expressly held as follows, directly refuting defense counsel’s ridiculous claim that the subject precedents do not stand for this proposition:

“Defendants argue that the ladder was in no way defective, and that the only cause of the accident was plaintiff’s own negligence in helping to set up the ladder in soil and then using it even though he knew that his co-worker was not holding it. The argument overlooks plaintiff’s evidence that no safety devices were provided to protect him in the event the ladder slipped. Given an unsecured ladder and no other safety devices, plaintiff cannot be held solely to blame for his injuries (see Davis v. Selina Dev. Corp., 302 A.D.2d 304, 305, 754 N.Y.S.2d 872; Bonanno v. Port Auth., 298 A.D.2d 269, 270, 750 N.Y.S.2d 7; cf. Blake v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs., 1 N.Y.3d 280, 290, 771 N.Y.S.2d 484, 803 N.E.2d 757). Plaintiff’s use of the ladder without his co-worker present amounted, at most, to comparative negligence, which is not a defense to a section 240(1) claim (see Hernandez v. 151 Sullivan Tenant Corp., 307 A.D.2d 207, 208, 762 N.Y.S.2d 603).”

In Denis, 54 A.D.3d at 803-804, 863 N.Y.S.2d at 773-774, the express language of the Appellate Division, Second Department also directly contradicts the defense counsel’s specious contention:

“As the plaintiff was removing one of the guard frames, the ladder began to shake, causing him to fall to the ground. In his affidavit, the plaintiff asserted that at the time of his fall, there were no safety belts, nets, or other safety devices in the area, and he was not equipped with any safety devices. Under the circumstances, the plaintiff established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability on the cause of action pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1) ( see Ricciardi v. Bernard Janowitz Constr. Corp., 49 A.D.3d 624, 853 N.Y.S.2d 373; Argueta v. Pomona Panorama Estates, Ltd.,39 A.D.3d 785, 786, 835 N.Y.S.2d 358; Boe v. Gammarati, 26 A.D.3d 351, 351-352, 809 N.Y.S.2d 550; Loreto v. 376 St. Johns Condominium, Inc., 15 A.D.3d 454, 455, 790 N.Y.S.2d 190; Guzman v. Gumley-Haft, Inc., 274 A.D.2d 555, 556, 712 N.Y.S.2d 45).”

Appellate Division, First, Second and Third Department precedents hold that a fall from a ladder or scaffold precipitated by the materials with which plaintiff was working or type of work that the plaintiff was performing, including (1) an electrician being shocked by live wires, (2) a person who fell from a ladder while working on a fence, or (3) a carpenter installing a sign falling from a ladder when the sign suddenly and unexpectedly came loose, sets forth a prima facie violation of the Labor Law, as “it is plain that the ladder he used was not an adequate safety device for the task he was performing, rendering defendants, who admittedly provided no safety devices, absolutely liable under section 240(1) [citations omitted].” Kadoic v. 1154 First Ave. Tenants Corp., 277 A.D.2d 66, 716 N.Y.S.2d 386, 387 (1st Dep’t 2000); see Castillo v. 62-25 30th Ave. Realty, LLC, 47 A.D.3d 865, 865-866, 850 N.Y.S.2d 616, 617-618 (2d Dep’t 2008); Lodato v. Greyhawk North America, LLC, 39 A.D.3d 491, 492-494, 834 N.Y.S.2d 242, 244-245 (2d Dep’t 2007); Quackenbush v. Gar-Ben Associates, 2 A.D.3d 824, 825, 769 N.Y.S.2d 387, 388 (2d Dep’t 2003); Gange v. Tilles Inv. Co., 220 A.D.2d 556, 558, 632 N.Y.S.2d 808, 810 (2d Dep’t 1995); Carino v. Webster Place Associates, LP, 45 A.D.3d 351, 352, 845 N.Y.S.2d 60, 61 (1st Dep’t 2007); Weber v. 1111 Park Ave. Realty Corp., 253 A.D.2d 376, 378, 676 N.Y.S.2d 174, 176 (1st Dep’t 1998); Quinlan v. Eastern Refractories Co., Inc., 217 A.D.2d 819, 820, 629 N.Y.S.2d 819, 820 (3d Dep’t1995).

In Gange, 220 A.D.2d at 558, 632 N.Y.S.2d at 810, the Appellate Division, Second Department held that an electrician who fell from a ladder after being shocked was entitled to recover under Labor Law § 240(1), as the ladder was an insufficient safety device to prevent him from falling after he was shocked:

“Furthermore, the fact that the plaintiff fell off of the ladder only after he sustained an electric shock does not preclude recovery under Labor Law § 240(1) for injuries sustained as a result of the fall from the ladder (see, Izrailev v. Ficarra Furniture, 70 N.Y.2d 813, 523 N.Y.S.2d 432, 517 N.E.2d 1318).”

In Quackenbush, 2 A.D.3d at 825, 769 N.Y.S.2d at 388, the Appellate Division, Second Department explained its rationale in Gange, 220 A.D.2d at 558, 632 N.Y.S.2d at 810, as follows:

“The unrebutted evidence adduced at trial by the plaintiff, an electrician, demonstrated that the defendants, which opted not to call any witnesses or present any evidence at trial, did not provide him with proper protection from height-related dangers connected with his work, and that the ladder on which he worked was inadequate to prevent him from falling 14 feet to the floor after sustaining an electric shock in the course of connecting a ceiling fixture ( see Izrailev v. Ficarra Furniture of Long Is., 70 N.Y.2d 813, 815, 523 N.Y.S.2d 432, 517 N.E.2d 1318).”

In Weber, 253 A.D.2d at 378, 676 N.Y.S.2d at 176, the Appellate Division, First Department expressly adopted the Second Department’s rationale fromGange, 220 A.D.2d at 558, 632 N.Y.S.2d at 810:

Gange v. Tilles Investment Co., 220 A.D.2d 556, 632 N.Y.S.2d 808, is directly on point. There, the Appellate Division, Second Department stated (at 558, 632 N.Y.S.2d 808), ‘the fact that the plaintiff fell off the ladder only after he sustained an electric shock does not preclude recovery under Labor Law § 240(1) for injuries sustained as a result of the fall from the ladder (see, Izrailev v. Ficarra Furniture, 70 N.Y.2d 813, 523 N.Y.S.2d 432, 517 N.E.2d 1318).’”

In Weber, 253 A.D.2d at 378, 676 N.Y.S.2d at 176, the Appellate Division, First Department directly addressed and rejected the argument of the defendant’s herein, holding “[r]egardless of the method employed by plaintiff to remove the fence, the ladder provided to him was not an adequate safety device for the task he was performing and was a proximate cause of the fall and resulting injuries”:

“Plaintiff was entitled to partial summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action, where he was injured when he fell from a ladder while in the course of removing an eight-foot high fence at a construction site. Regardless of the method employed by plaintiff to remove the fence, the ladder provided to him was not an adequate safety device for the task he was performing and was a proximate cause of the fall and resulting injuries (see Ben Gui Zhu v. Great Riv. Holding, LLC., 16 A.D.3d 185, 791 N.Y.S.2d 43 [2005]; Dunn v. Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc., 272 A.D.2d 129, 707 N.Y.S.2d 420 [2000] ).”

Binding Appellate Division, First, Second and Fourth Department precedents expressly reject the defense that plaintiff’s negligently performing work outside exposed to the elements, including rain (as instructed by his employer) where it was foreseeable that this type of accident could occur, was the sole proximate cause of the accident, instead holding “[e]vidence of rain, or other ‘concurrent cause’, at the time of the accident does not create a triable issue of fact as to proximate cause where plaintiff has met her burden in establishing her § 240(1) claim [citations omitted]. If anything, the readily foreseeable occurrence of rainy conditions at an outdoor construction site highlights defendants’ negligence in failing to provide the statutorily-prescribed safety measures.” Robinson v. NAB Const. Corp., 210 A.D.2d 86, 86-87, 620 N.Y.S.2d 337, 338-339 (1st Dep’t 1994); see Shipkoski v. Watch Case Factory Associates, 292 A.D.2d 587, 588-589, 741 N.Y.S.2d 55, 56-57 (2d Dep’t 2002) (Holding that “to establish a prima facie case pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1), a plaintiff must demonstrate that the risk of injury from an elevation-related hazard was foreseeable, and that an absent or defective protective device of the type enumerated in the statute was a proximate cause of the injuries alleged (see Felker v. Corning, Inc., 90 N.Y.2d 219, 660 N.Y.S.2d 349, 682 N.E.2d 950; Misseritti v. Mark IV Constr. Co., supra)” and this burden is met upon evidence of hazards caused by “neglect, vandalism, and the elements that the plaintiff’s work on the third floor exposed him to a foreseeable risk of injury from an elevation-related hazard, and whether the absence of a type of protective device enumerated under Labor Law § 240(1) was a proximate cause of his injuries (see Gold v. NAB Constr. Corp., 288 A.D.2d 434, 733 N.Y.S.2d 681; Norton v. Park Plaza Owners Corp., 263 A.D.2d 531, 694 N.Y.S.2d 411; Avelino v. 26 Railroad Ave., 252 A.D.2d 912, 676 N.Y.S.2d 342).”); Callan v. Structure Tone, Inc., 52 A.D.3d 334, 335, 860 N.Y.S.2d 62, 63 (1st Dep’t 2008) (“Plaintiff worker, an electrician employed by third-party defendant subcontractor, was injured while installing ceiling lights over a weekend in an unventilated room where the temperature was estimated at over 100 degrees; he became dizzy from the heat, then nauseous, and fell from near the top of a 10-foot ladder. The worker recalled that as he attempted to reach down to grab hold of the ladder to stabilize himself, the ladder wobbled, he passed out, and both he and the ladder toppled over. Defendant was the general contractor at the work site, and deposition testimony of its project foreman corroborated the worker’s testimony that prior complaints of excessive heat during weekend duty had gone unheeded. The unrefuted evidence of excessively hot work conditions, of which defendant had notice and control; the foreseeable consequence to workers who might suffer heat-related physical symptoms under such circumstances; and the lack of proper safety equipment afforded to elevated workers in light of these conditions, provided a basis for finding defendant strictly liable under Labor Law § 240(1) ( Arce v. 1133 Bldg. Corp., 257 A.D.2d 515, 684 N.Y.S.2d 523 [1999]; see also Cruz v. Turner Constr. Co., 279 A.D.2d 322, 720 N.Y.S.2d 10 [2001]).”); Reisch v. Amadori Const. Co., Inc., 273 A.D.2d 855, 857, 709 N.Y.S.2d 726, 728-729 (4th Dep’t 2000) (“We also reject Amadori’s contention that, because plaintiff knew the plank was wet and complained about its safety before using it, there is an issue of fact whether the absence of safety devices was the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries. “It is well settled that the [plaintiff’s] contributory negligence is not a defense to a claim based on Labor Law § 240(1)” (Stolt v. General Foods Corp., 81 N.Y.2d 918, 920, 597 N.Y.S.2d 650, 613 N.E.2d 556; see also, Robinson v. NAB Constr. Corp.,210 A.D.2d 86, 86-87, 620 N.Y.S.2d 337).”); Arce v. 1133 Bldg. Corp., 257 A.D.2d 515, 515-516, 684 N.Y.S.2d 523, 524 (1st Dep’t 1999) (“We note that even if the testimony of defendants’ expert witness were sufficient to raise a fact question on the cause of plaintiff’s fall, partial summary judgment would still have been properly granted to plaintiffs because defendants failed to provide proper protection to plaintiff, e.g., a scaffold, in the event he became overcome by heat, which was foreseeable under the circumstances (see, Gordon v. Eastern Ry. Supply, Inc., 82 N.Y.2d 555, 562, 606 N.Y.S.2d 127, 626 N.E.2d 912; Robinson v. NAB Constr. Corp., 210 A.D.2d 86, 620 N.Y.S.2d 337).”).

In Robinson, 210 A.D.2d at 86-87, 620 N.Y.S.2d at 338-339, the Appellate Division, First Department expressly rejected the contention that a worker’s performing assigned work outside in the rain was the sole proximate cause of his fall from an elevated worksite, holding:

“Evidence of rain, or other “concurrent cause”, at the time of the accident does not create a triable issue of fact as to proximate cause where plaintiff has met her burden in establishing her § 240(1) claim (see, Iannelli v. Olympia & York Battery Park Co., 190 A.D.2d 775, 776, 593 N.Y.S.2d 553, citing Joyce v. Rumsey Realty Corp., 17 N.Y.2d 118, 122, 269 N.Y.S.2d 105, 216 N.E.2d 317). If anything, the readily foreseeable occurrence of rainy conditions at an outdoor construction site highlights defendants’ negligence in failing to provide the statutorily-prescribed safety measures.”

In the instant action, the uncontroverted evidence shows that plaintiff fell when he was shocked by the welding equipment he was forced to use outside in the rain without any shelter being provided (see Shipkoski, 292 A.D.2d at 588-589, 741 N.Y.S.2d at 56-57; Callan, 52 A.D.3d at 335, 860 N.Y.S.2d at 63;Robinson, 210 A.D.2d at 86-87, 620 N.Y.S.2d at 338-339), plaintiff shook, the ladder shifted, sank into the mud, and he and the ladder fell to the ground as a result of the failure to provide any adequate safety devices in violation of Labor Law § 240, so plaintiff has demonstrated a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on his Labor Law 240(1) cause of action. See id.; Kadoic, 277 A.D.2d at 66, 716 N.Y.S.2d at 387; Davis, 302 A.D.2d at 305, 754 N.Y.S.2d at 872; Costello, 305 A.D.2d at 447, 761 N.Y.S.2d at 80-81; Peter, 300 A.D.2d at 289-290, 750 N.Y.S.2d at 772-773.

The failure to provide safety devices may be a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries sufficient to remove the “sole proximate cause” defense from the case and support the grant of summary judgment to an injured worker. See Denis v. City of New York, 54 A.D.3d 803, 803-804, 863 N.Y.S.2d 773, 773-774 (2d Dep’t 2008); Boe v. Gammarati, 26 A.D.3d 351, 352, 809 N.Y.S.2d 550, 550-551 (2d Dep’t 2006); Brandl v. Ram Builders, Inc., 7 A.D.3d 655, 777 N.Y.S.2d 511, 511-512 (2d Dep’t 2004); Wallace v. Stonehenge Group, Ltd., 1 A.D.3d 589, 767 N.Y.S.2d 450, 451 (2d Dep’t 2003); Ranieri v. Holt Construction Corp., 33 A.D.3d 425, 822 N.Y.S.2d 509, 510 (1st Dep’t 2006) (“Plaintiff, a sheet metal worker employed by a subcontractor, was injured when he fell from an unsecured ladder with no safety devices provided to protect him. This activity fell within the ambit of Labor Law § 240(1), and the failure to supply plaintiff with a properly secured ladder or any safety devices was a proximate cause of his fall (see Samuel v. Simone Dev. Co., 13 A.D.3d 112, 786 N.Y.S.2d 163 [2004]; Velasco v. Green Wood Cemetery, 8 A.D.3d 88, 779 N.Y.S.2d 459 [2004]). There is no reasonable view of the evidence to support defendants’ contention that plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his injury, nor is there a triable question of fact as to whether he was solely to blame.”); Peralta v. American Telephone And Telegraph Company, 29 A.D.3d 493, 494, 816 N.Y.S.2d 436, 436-437 (1st Dep’t 2006) (“Unrefuted evidence that the unsecured ladder moved, combined with evidence that no other safety devices were provided to plaintiff, warranted a finding that the owners were absolutely liable under Labor Law § 240(1), notwithstanding claims of comparative negligence (see Velasco v. Green Wood Cemetery, 8 A.D.3d 88, 779 N.Y.S.2d 459 [2004] ), or unsupported claims that plaintiff’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of her injuries.”); Morales v. Spring Scaffolding, Inc., 24 A.D.3d 42, 47-49, 802 N.Y.S.2d 41, 44-46 (1st Dep’t 2005); Serrano v. 432 Park South Realty Co., LLC, 8 A.D.3d 202, 779 N.Y.S.2d 198, 199 (1st Dep’t 2004); Velasco v. Green Wood Cemetery, 8 A.D.3d 88, 89, 779 N.Y.S.2d 459 (1st Dep’t 2004); Morin v. Machnick Builders, Ltd., 4 A.D.3d 668, 669-670, 772 N.Y.S.2d 388, 390-391 (3d Dep’t 2004); Bonanno v. Port Of Authority Of New York And New Jersey, 298 A.D.2d 269, 270, 750 N.Y.S.2d 7, 8 (1st Dep’t 2002) (“No other safety devices were provided to prevent the fall. Nor does the evidence suggest that plaintiff’s own actions were the sole proximate cause of his injury. Thus, plaintiff, as a matter of law, was entitled to recover on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim. Plaintiff was under no obligation to show that the ladder was defective in some manner (Klein v. City of New York, 222 A.D.2d 351, 635 N.Y.S.2d 634, affd. 89 N.Y.2d 833, 652 N.Y.S.2d 723, 675 N.E.2d 458) or to prove that the floor was slippery to make out a Labor Law § 240(1) violation. It was sufficient to show the absence of adequate safety devices to prevent the ladder from sliding or to protect plaintiff from falling. (Orellano v. 29 East 37th Street Realty Corp., 292 A.D.2d 289, 740 N.Y.S.2d 16.)”).

In Morin, 4 A.D.3d at 669-670, 772 N.Y.S.2d at 390-391, the Appellate Division held as follows, directly substantiating plaintiff’s position and directly refuting defense counsel’s specious contention:

“The only elevation related safety device provided to plaintiff was the extension ladder. No ropes or other safety devices were provided to secure the ladder and prevent it from slipping, nor were harnesses provided to prevent plaintiff from hitting the ground if the ladder did slip…. Accordingly, plaintiff established that defendants violated Labor Law § 240(1) and such violation was a cause of his injury (see Tavarez v. Weissman, 297 A.D.2d 245, 246 247 [2002]; Squires v. Robert Marini Bldrs., supra at 808 809; Dennis v. Beltrone Constr. Co., 195 A.D.2d 688, 689 [1993]). As this statutory violation was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s fall, plaintiff’s own actions cannot be the sole proximate cause of his fall (see Blake v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of N.Y. City, supra at * 6 n 8).”

Similarly, in Serrano, 8 A.D.3d at 202, 779 N.Y.S.2d at 199, the Appellate Division, First Department held as follows:

“Plaintiff established that his accident was attributable to a lack of proper safety equipment and/or the failure to secure the ladder upon which he was working. Even if plaintiff had been negligent in continuing his work in his coworker’s momentary absence, no triable issue would therefore be raised as to whether liability should be imposed upon defendant pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1), since such negligence would not be susceptible of characterization as the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm (see Dasilva v. A.J., Contr. Co., 262 A.D.2d 214).”

The Second Department reached the identical result in Wallace, 1 A.D.3d at 589, 767 N.Y.S.2d at 451:

“The plaintiffs established their entitlement to partial judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability by presenting evidence that no safety devices were provided (see Taeschner v. M & M Restorations, 295 A.D.2d 598, 745 N.Y.S.2d 41). In opposition, the defendants failed to raise a triable issue of fact regarding liability. While a plaintiff cannot recover where his or her conduct was the sole proximate cause of his or her injuries (see e.g. Lozada v. GBE Contr. Corp., 295 A.D.2d 482, 744 N.Y.S.2d 464), that defense was not available to the defendants under the circumstances of this case (seeVacanti v. Habasit Globe, 283 A.D.2d 935, 724 N.Y.S.2d 240; DiVincenzo v. Tripart Dev., 272 A.D.2d 904, 709 N.Y.S.2d 271).”; see also Denis, 54 A.D.3d at 803-804, 863 N.Y.S.2d at 773-774 (quoted above in paragraph 25).

Defendant also claims that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate which safety devices could have been employer to prevent his accident, purportedly preventing plaintiff from proving a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment. This contention is both factually and legally incorrect. The defendant’s argument is legally deficient, as binding Appellate Division, First and Third Department precedents which hold “[t]he plaintiff is not ‘required to present evidence as to which particular safety devices would have prevented his injury’ [citations omitted].” Cangialosi v. Gotham Const. Co., LLC, 865 N.Y.S.2d 892, 897-898, 22 Misc.3d 189, 193 (Sup.Ct. Kings County 2008) (Jack M. Battaglia, J.); see Cody v. State, 52 A.D.3d 930, 931, 859 N.Y.S.2d 316, 318 (3d Dep’t 2008) (“Nor was claimant required to prove what additional safety devices would have prevented his injury (see Noble v. AMCC Corp., 277 A.D.2d 20, 21, 714 N.Y.S.2d 495 [2000]). Thus, defendant violated Labor Law § 240(1) as a matter of law (see Kyle v. City of New York, 268 A.D.2d at 196-197, 707 N.Y.S.2d 445; Reed v. State of New York, 249 A.D.2d 719, 720, 671 N.Y.S.2d 820 [1998]), and this violation clearly was a proximate cause of claimant’s injury (see Meyers v. State of New York, 30 A.D.3d at 928, 817 N.Y.S.2d 735; Pearl v. Sam Greco Constr., Inc., 31 A.D.3d 996, 997-998, 819 N.Y.S.2d 193 [2006]).”); Noble v. AMCC Corp., 277 A.D.2d 20, 21, 714 N.Y.S.2d 495, 496-497 (1st Dep’t 2000).

In Noble, 277 A.D.2d at 21, 714 N.Y.S.2d at 496-497, a precedent relied on by defendant in its memorandum of law in opposition to plaintiff’s cross-motion, the Appellate Division, First Department expressly rejected the defendant’s contention:

“Assuming plaintiff’s slide down the boiler was caused by his hitting his head on an overhead pipe, the cramped quarters in which he was working made such an occurrence foreseeable, and thus required the provision of a safety device (see, Gordon v. Eastern Ry. Supply, 82 N.Y.2d 555, 561-562, 606 N.Y.S.2d 127, 626 N.E.2d 912; Arce v. 1133 Bldg. Corp., 257 A.D.2d 515, 516, 684 N.Y.S.2d 523). Moreover, any comparative negligence by plaintiff would not be a defense to the section 240(1) violation in failing to provide a safety device (see, Ortiz v. SFDS Dev., 274 A.D.2d 341, 342, 712 N.Y.S.2d 94, 96, citing, inter alia, Stolt v. General Foods Corp., 81 N.Y.2d 918, 597 N.Y.S.2d 650, 613 N.E.2d 556). Nor was plaintiff required to present evidence as to which particular safety devices would have prevented his injury (see, Guillory v. Nautilus Real Estate, 208 A.D.2d 336, 338, 624 N.Y.S.2d 110, appeal dismissed and lv. denied 86 N.Y.2d 881, 635 N.Y.S.2d 943, 659 N.E.2d 766).”

copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Klass in the News: Yoko Ono Publicist Kip Kouri Injured at NYC Restaurant, Alleges Homophobic Harassment

By Andrew Hampp
Billboardbiz
July 25, 2014 6:00 PM EDT


Link to original article: Yoko Ono Publicist Kip Kouri Injured at NYC Restaurant, Alleges Homophobic Harassment

Kip Kouri, founder of Tell All Your Friends PR, is one of the most familiar and well-liked faces on the New York indie-rock circuit, repping everyone from Yoko Ono to Les Savy Fav to Guided By Voices to white-hot duo Sylvan Esso.

But a recent visit to Eataly, Mario Batali’s food emporium in New York’s Gramercy Park, ended in a violent altercation with the wait staff, leaving Kouri in stitches after allegedly being thrown through a plate glass window by a security guard. Kouri declined public comment while he sought legal counsel, but clients like Frenchkiss Records’ Syd Butler and Miniature Tigers began tweeting in Kouri’s defense, suggesting the incident was a hate crime and that a security guard used homophobic slurs against Kouri….

…Kouri declined comment, but deferred to his lawyer Richard Klass, who responded to Billboard in a statement: “Mr. Kouri vehemently denies the allegations made in the statement of Eataly’s representative. Mr. Kouri was at Eataly with his stepmother, sister and boyfriend, and a disagreement arose concerning the mishandling by Eataly of Mr. Kouri’s reservation. Mr. Kouri proceeded to leave the store after being harassed by Eataly’s staff, including being called homophobic slurs and enduring the staff’s homophobic hand gestures at him.

“As Mr. Kouri was exiting,” Klass continued, “three security guards became physical and began to push Mr. Kouri, his stepmother and sister, all the while calling him names. The security guards then tackled Mr. Kouri and threw him through a glass door, causing him to sustain serious injuries. Footage from Eataly’s security cameras were reviewed by the New York City Police Department and the investigation of the matter is pending.”

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Lawyer Misses the Bus (a $300,000 tale of woe)

The cabbie’s nightmare began with courtesy and continued with insult and injury.

It began as just another busy day in the life of a New York livery cab driver: picking up and dropping off passengers. On this particular day, the cabbie had pulled to the curb just past a bus stop in Manhattan to let out a passenger. He then stepped out of the car to open the passenger’s door. Perhaps he thought a little extra courtesy might result in a bigger tip but, no matter the reason, in this case, it cost him dearly.

The next moment, a New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) bus, while running its regular route, pulled behind the livery cab at the bus stop. The bus driver opened his door and shouted at the driver, “You idiot, what are you doing in the bus stop!” The cabbie calmly apologized and said he’d move his car. However, without waiting for that to happen, the bus driver drove the bus close to the cabbie, requiring him to close his passenger door slightly so as to avoid his car door being damaged by the bus. The bus driver then accelerated the bus and drove closer, striking the cabbie, and causing him severe personal injuries.

The injured driver hired a law firm to bring a personal injury claim. That law firm brought a case against the NYCTA, seemingly the owner and operator of the bus. Unfortunately, the law firm did not learn that the bus operator could only have been an employee of a separate public authority known as the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MABSTOA) until long past the statute of limitations period in which to make a claim. Only at the deposition of the bus depot dispatcher, held more than two years after the incident, did the law firm learn from the witness that the bus operators for that bus route were all MABSTOA employees and not NYCTA employees (and only because all bus operators listed on the “crew report” had the designation “M” for MABSTOA).

The case against the NYCTA went to trial and the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the NYCTA and dismissed the claims of the livery cab driver. The cab driver then retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer to make a claim against the personal injury law firm for legal malpractice.

Time-barred by the Statute of Limitations:

The concept of a “ Statute of Limitations ” is that people are afforded a certain amount of time to take action concerning a legal claim they may have; if that period of time passes without taking action, then the ability to pursue the legal claim has been waived. Most people are familiar, for instance, that in New York State the statute of limitations period within which to file most personal injury cases is three years from the date of accident. In this particular case, though, a notice of claim had to be served upon MABSTOA within 90 days of the incident under certain rules contained in the Public Authorities Law and General Municipal Law §50-e; then, an action had to be commenced in 1 year and 90 days after the incident.

Confusion between the MTA, NYCTA and MABSTOA:

Within the “alphabet soup” letters of all of these different municipal authorities lays a trap to catch the unwary. According to the statutory scheme laid out in the Public Authorities Law §1260 et. seq., the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is a public benefit corporation which was created to oversee the mass transportation systems of New York City, and which functions as an umbrella organization for various other independent but affiliated agencies. See, In re New York Public Interest Research Group Straphangers Campaign, Inc., 309 AD2d 127 [1 Dept. 2003]. However, aside from the MTA’s overall organization, the MTA and each of its subsidiaries (which include NYCTA and MABSTOA) must be separately sued and are not responsible for each other’s torts. See, Mayayev v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bus, 74 AD3d 910 [2 Dept. 2010]. As provided for in Public Authorities Law §1203-a, MABSTOA is a subsidiary, public benefit corporation.

In Nowinski v. City of New York, 189 AD2d 674 [1 Dept. 1993], the plaintiff sued MABSTOA for personal injuries sustained at a location for which the NYCTA maintained responsibility. The plaintiff sought to serve a late notice of claim and both MASTOA and NYCTA moved to dismiss the action. The court held that the injured person was time-barred from serving the late notice of claim, given that the statute of limitations had already long expired. (See, generally, Public Authorities Law §1276).

No claim for being “lulled” into a false sense of security:

To the extent that the law firm could have claimed in its defense that it could not have known of the relationship between the MABSTOA, MTA, NYCTA and the relevant bus operators identified in the crew report, the court in Delacruz v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 45 AD3d 482 [1 Dept. 2007], held that the injured plaintiff could not claim that, by the actions of the MTA, he was “lulled into a false sense of security” that his lawyer sued the right public authority. The court specifically held the doctrine of “equitable estoppel” applies only when a governmental subdivision acts wrongfully or negligently inducing reliance by a party who is entitled to rely and who changes his position to his detriment or prejudice. There was no evidence here of any wrongful conduct by the NYCTA; it did not hide the information about MABSTOA or mislead the injured driver’s lawyer.

The legal malpractice claim was settled for $300,000 to pay for the livery cab driver’s injuries and medical lien. This case only emphasizes the point of how important it is for a lawyer to identify the proper legal entities to be sued on behalf of a client.

copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Art credits:
Image at top of page: El Gouna (Red Sea, Egypt): public transport bus, customized and highly decorated in genuine Pakistani style. Coach built by Chishti Engineering (Karachi) and decorated by S. Gulzar (Karachi). Author/photographer: Marc Ryckaert, 2009. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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