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Cities Pay Big in Faulty Lawsuits

dheffleydheffley Member Posts: 25,000
edited January 2003 in General Discussion
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Cities Pay Big in Faulty Lawsuits

Thursday, January 30, 2003

NEW YORK - People who get injured while committing a crime, or while failing to commit suicide, and then sue their cities for damages are reaping financial benefits at the public's expense.

A woman who was lying on subway tracks when she was struck by a New York City train was awarded over $14 million last May, later reduced to about $10 million, by a jury that found her to be only 30 percent negligent for the incident.

Seong Sil Kim, 36, claimed the train operator should have been able to stop in time after seeing her. The Transit Authority said the plaintiff was trying to kill herself because she suffered from postpartum depression. Kim suffered amputation of the right hand except for the thumb; multiple skull and * bone fractures; fractures to the right radius and left toes; and lacerations of the face, abdomen and leg.

In another instance, Angelo Delgrande shot and wounded his parents and himself in a June 1995 dispute. He then received surgery at a hospital in Westchester County, N.Y. That night, he yanked the tubes and monitoring devices from his body and tried to commit suicide by jumping off the second story of a parking garage. Now a paraplegic, Delgrande sued the hospital for failing to treat his depression and keep him indoors. He was awarded $9 million.

And in Oakland, Calif., a bank robber didn't know the bag of cash he stole contained a time-delayed tear-gas canister that went off, scorched him and sped his arrest. He sued the bank and the police for $2 million for burning him.

"These are some of the cases that make people rub their eyes and say, 'I can't believe it's real. Someone would have had to make up this case,'" said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "But unfortunately, around the country, they're all too real."

And legal critics say the practice has got to stop.

"You have to wonder, what message does this send on individual responsibility?" Olson asked. "If money is going not just to the innocent bystanders but to the people who caused the accidents or injuries in the first place?"

But the lawyers argue that even the people who caused the accidents have rights.

"Just because somebody robbed a bank, doesn't mean that they have no legal rights whatsoever," said Mark Geistfeld, a professor at New York University's School of Law. "The idea that all of us deserve to be protected by the law, even while we're breaking the law, is something that we all will benefit from on a daily basis."

In essence, people have the same rights if they're caught speeding or jaywalking as they would if they rob a bank or break out of jail.

But Olson said the courts need to realize that people who set out to break the law should expect something bad to happen to them.

"Not all judges invoke that principle," Olson said. "I think more of them should."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one local official who's had enough.

Last May, Bloomberg announced a $560 million set of tort reform measures aimed at reining in these types of lawsuits, among other things. One portion of his bill requires that if the plaintiff is "predominantly" - or more than 50 percent - at fault for causing the incident in question, he or she should not recover damages from the city.

"The city's tort payouts are larger than the budgets of most city agencies," the mayor said last year. "In fact, they are bigger than the budget of most municipalities in New York.

In 1978, the city paid out $21 million in tort payouts and in 2001, that number had skyrocketed to more than half a billion dollars.

"This money could be far better spent on social issues - including better schools, new teachers, more firefighters and police officers - and improving our infrastructure, especially as the city faces a fiscal crisis," Bloomberg said.

Fox News' Rick Folbaum and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.

Measure twice, cut once.
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