Slip and Sue, 2009 versus 1953. Plus, Ashes on the Sidewalk?

By January 5, 2009Briefly Legal

Last month the New York Court of Appeals ruled that maps of NYC sidewalk failures — cracks, bumps, etc. — funded by plaintiff’s attorneys could not be used in lawsuits because of their inaccuracies and lack of clarity. From the New York Times, “Ruling Deals a Setback to Sidewalk Injury Lawsuits in New York”:

They were conceived by a group of trial lawyers who hired a mapping company to scour the streets and sketch every crack, chink and pothole, with the ostensible purpose of giving the city notice of potential hazards it must fix, or face the consequences. When someone fell and was injured on a city sidewalk — the most frequent ground for a personal-injury lawsuit against the city — he could present the map in court as hard evidence of the city’s liability.

City officials have long attacked the maps as nothing more than a useless collection of “700,000 squiggles,” created by greedy lawyers, that has forced them to parse the intricacies of geometry — is that line horizontal or vertical? — and cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in damage awards and settlements.

Turns out the city and property owners have long been bedeviled by slip-and-sue litigation. Consider this passage from a popular radio program of the 1950s, “Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator,” the “Girl on the Doorstep” episode, February 15, 1953 (audio clip here):

Doorbell rings.

Apartment Super: What do you want?

Craig: I’m sorry I had to wake you, there’s been a small accident.

Apartment Super: Yeah, what kind of an accident?

Craig: Somebody slipped on the ice in front of the building.

Apartment Super: What are you, a lawyer?

Craig: No, no.

Apartment Super: Nobody could have slipped in front of the building, I put plenty of ashes on the ice. It ain’t slippery.

Craig: Well, come on and look for yourself.

Apartment: OK, but if you think you got a case…

Craig: I don’t know the man, it’s none of my business.

Apartment Super: Well, if HE think’s he’s got ….

Craig: C’mon! And he’s not thinking of suing anybody.

Apartment Super: Yeah, maybe he ain’t, but if you’ve been a super as long as I have, you know they’re always looking for a chance to stick an insurance company …oh….

Craig: You still think he’s looking anything?

Apartment Super: Why, the guy’s dead, ain’t he?

Yes he was, but it was murder, not an accident.

That’s William Gargan as Barry Craig, by the way. What a voice; sadly, throat cancer ended his career.

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