Statute Of Limitations For Actions Against Public Authority

Statute Of Limitations:  A person has one year from the date a claim accrues to commence an action against a public authority such as LIRR (Public Authorities Law Section 1276(2). The complaint must contain an allegation that at least 30 days have elapsed since the authority was presented with a demand or claim and that the authority has neglected or refused to adjust or pay the claim. This “stay” of 30 days is not counted as part of the limitations period and the plaintiff therefore may serve a complaint at any time up to one year and 30 days after the claim has accrued.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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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.com 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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The Wrong Side of the Tracks Costs Law Firm $800,000.

The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) leased one of its old rail yards in Queens to a recycling company. One of the recycling company’s employees was working the late shift on a rainy evening in 2003. That rainy night, he was assigned the task of welding on a portion of the metal fence surrounding the yard with an acetylene torch. He got up on a ladder, climbed up several rungs, and started to weld. At that point, the injured worker got a shock from the welding equipment. The ladder then shifted in the mud and he fell to the ground, suffering severe injuries. Since that incident, he was unable to work, having become disabled, and having had several surgeries to his back and knee.

The injured worker hired a law firm to bring a personal injury claim against the owner of the yard under New York’s Labor Law Section 240 known as the “Scaffolding Law.” That law firm brought a petition to file notices of claim against the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and the LIRR. The Supreme Court Justice dismissed the petition, indicating in his decision that, as to the MTA, the reason for the late notice of claim was not meritorious and, as to the LIRR, no notice of claim was needed and that the law firm merely needed to timely commence a lawsuit under New York’s Public Authority Law. Needless to say, the time within which the injured worker needed to commence the lawsuit against the LIRR had already passed by the time of that decision. The injured worker retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer to sue 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, the Statute of Limitations period within which to sue the potentially liable parties was shorter (to a period of one year and thirty days) because the personal injury claim was against the LIRR, a governmental authority under a special statute.

Once the judge had dismissed the injured worker’s lawsuit, thus leaving him without recourse to recover monetary damages for his injuries, the law firm was exposed to the legal malpractice claim brought against it because it was alleged to have “blown” the statute of limitations by neglecting to timely file the lawsuit against the LIRR.

In legal malpractice cases, the statute of limitations in which to sue an attorney is three years from the date of malpractice under New York’s CPLR Section 214(6). Since many times in litigation, attorneys who have committed malpractice continue representing their clients for months or years afterward, there is also a concept of “ continuous representation. ” This means that the statute of limitations “clock” does not start to tick until the attorney has stopped representing the client in the matter.

Proving the underlying case under Labor Law Section 240:

A legal malpractice case is a very difficult type of litigation for one particular reason: Assuming that the lawyer ‘screwed up’ as much as possible, doing everything as wrong as could be done or failing to do any of the right things, it still might not matter — the ultimate question for purposes of liability for legal malpractice will be whether there was any merit to the underlying case that the lawyer was hired to handle. Rephrased: Would the client have won “but for” his lawyer?!

New York’s Scaffolding Law provides that owners of real estate, such as the LIRR, are “strictly liable” for injuries suffered by workers who fall from a ladder or scaffold under almost all circumstances, with limited exceptions, such as if there was a lack of adequate safety devices. This basically means that the landowner is responsible to pay for all of the worker’s damages for his injuries, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. An exception to holding the landowner strictly liable under the Scaffolding Law is where the injured worker is found to have been the “ sole proximate cause ” of his injuries. In this case, the law firm being sued for legal malpractice argued that, in the event the LIRR had been sued, the injured worker would not have prevailed anyway because this exception to the Scaffolding Law would have applied because he knew not to weld in the rain. In response, the injured worker claimed that his employer at the yard instructed him to weld in the rain and that he was not going to be insubordinate.

Separate and apart from the Scaffolding Law issue, the law firm argued that there was no proof of exactly where the fall occurred to establish that it happened on the LIRR’s property. In response, a surveyor was retained to survey the area surrounding the old rail (now recycling) yard, and Deeds dating back to the 1800s were obtained. These documents were produced to establish the legal ownership of the location where the fall took place. This was a necessary element of the case in order to prove that the LIRR would have been liable for injuries to workers on its property under the Scaffolding Law.

The legal malpractice case came up for a pre-trial conference. Attorneys Richard A. Klass and Stefano A. Filippazzo appeared at the conference on behalf of the injured worker. The law firm being sued for legal malpractice finally settled with the injured worker for $800,000 to settle the action and pay for his injuries and extensive medical lien.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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copyr. 2011 Richard A. Klass, Esq.

Art credits: page one, Hjørring – Hirtshals Line in Northern Denmark. Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki, 2003.

The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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