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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

New York Noncompete, Trade Secret & School Negligence Blog

This blog by the six-time published author Jonathan Cooper, is intended to educate the general public about issues of interest, particularly innovations and changes in the law, in the areas of non-compete agreements, breach of contract matters, school negligence (and/or negligent supervision), construction accidentsslip and/or trip and fall accidentsauto accidents, and, of course, defective or dangerous products

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8/23/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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Sometimes the courts get it right - and for the right reason.

In Nutley v. Skydive the Ranch, the plaintiff suffered personal injuries when he was forced to rely on his secondary chute rather than on his primary parachute which had failed. In their motion to dismiss the complaint, the Skydive ranch pointed out to the Court that before he embarked on the skydive, the plaintiff had signed an agreement in which he expressly waived his right to sue for the ranch's negligence.

But that's not why the appellate court dismissed the case: under New York law, any contract or agreement between the owner or operator of a facility and a paying customer stating that the owner may not be held liable for its negligence is void and unenforceable (see NY General Obligations Law 5-326). Instead, the appellate court noted that since the plaintiff's claimed injury resulted from a risk that was open and obvious, and inherently part of, the activity of skydiving, the plaintiff voluntarily assumed this risk, and therefore the defendant Skydive ranch could not be held liable for his injuries.



Category: Keyword Search: New York law

5/20/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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In the May 20 edition of the New York Daily News, it was reported that one of Britney Spears's former bodyguards has sued her for personal injuries that he allegedly sustained due to her negligence. In reading the article's description of this man's background, I was amazed that my gut almost instinctively rejected the merits of this man's claims - even though very little detail about the actual claims is given. And you know what? I imagine that most people reading that article felt the same way.

So, you ask, what was so troubling about the man's past that it turned me, a Long Island, New York personal injury lawyer into a hardened skeptic? He is clearly a very litigious guy, with two other lawsuits that are still pending, and a third work injury-related claim that was resolved some time ago. While it is questionable to what degree an attorney would be permitted to introduce evidence of the other claims at trial, there is a serious risk that a jury will take this new claim - no matter how legitimate - with more than a few grains of salt.

In addition, if you sue over a relatively minor injury to one part of your body, and then subsequently injure that same part of your body more severly later on, you may have unwittingly provided an important defense to the latter claim: that your injury was caused by the first incident rather than the second one. To summarize: before rushing head-first into litigation, you should strongly consider whether this case is really worthwhile; if you don't, it could compromise a more meaningful claim down the road.



Category: Keyword Search: New York law

5/19/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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Recently, a Brooklyn jury awarded in excess of $7 million to a man who sustained serious personal injuries, including the loss of both one eye and a leg when he fell to the subway tracks, and was then hit by a passing New York City Transit Authority subway train. But that's not the surprising part. It's the jury's apportionment of fault for the accident that is puzzling.

In weighing the parties' relative degree of fault for the subway accident, the jury held the Transit Authority 70% responsible, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff was heavily intoxicated on alcohol and narcotics at the time of occurrence. While New York's courts have long held that the motorman of a subway train can be held liable in negligence for failing to avoid an accident provided that he had enough time and distance to do so, I am at a loss to understand how a man who found himself on the train tracks only because of his self-inflicted methadone and alcohol-induced haze can only be 30% responsible for his accident. Perhaps I'm alone in my feelings on this; but I highly doubt it.



Category: Keyword Search: New York law

5/3/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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In a tragic incident that occurred on Friday, May 1, a blind 67 year-old man from Riverdale, in the Bronx section of New York, fell to his death when, after the door to his 10-floor building's elevator opened, he stepped into an empty elevator shaft.  By that same afternoon, New York City's Department of Buildings concluded that the elevator accident occurred because the safety device on the elevator door had malfunctioned, allowing the door to open even though the elevator had not yet arrived.

In interviews with reporters, some of the building's tenants claimed that there had been ongoing elevator maintenance and repair work at the building for several weeks prior to this incident.Some building residents said the elevators had been worked on for weeks.


Not surprisingly, this was not the first problem with this particular elevator; however, it does not appear that this elevator ever experienced the same problem that was responsible for this accident beforehand. In an interview with the New York Times, elevator consultant Scott Hayes opined that the mechanical devices that are designed to assure that the elevator's outer door remains shut until the elevator has arrived can occasionally become defective due to wear and tear or inadequate,  improper or negligent maintenance. For this reason, he recommended the obvious: that elevator passengers peer through the elevator door's window to assure that the elevator has arrived before opening the door and stepping into the shaft. He conceded, however, that this advice wouldn't prove effective in this case, where the person was legally blind.

For more information on building owners' and elevator repair company's liability for elevator accidents, see "Elevator Accidents and Injuries Under New York Law."

Category: Keyword Search: New York law

4/26/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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After a trial that recently took place in Brooklyn's federal court, a jury found that Black & Decker, which manufactured the lawnmower, was liable to the plaintiff, who lost his fingers in the cutting blades of one of its lawnmowers, because the lawnmower was defectively designed. The significance of this case lies in the second part of the jury's finding, however: although the jury held that the lawnmower was defectively made, in that the Black & Decker lawnmower's on/off switch was too readily turned on, which was a safety hazard, and further held that this defect was a significant factor in causing the plaintiff's personal injuries, they also held that by forgetting to unplug the mower before performing maintenance on the machine, the plaintiff was 90% responsible for his own accident. Consequently, despite finding that the plaintiff's loss of his fingers was worth $2 million, the plaintiff was only awarded $200,000.

So, why is case is blog-worthy? Because it provides one of the clearest demonstrations of how New York's comparative negligence doctrine works in a practical way. More importantly, I believe that this case shows the wisdom of some facets of our judicial system, in this case, the comparative negligence doctrine.  Although some might be inclined to side with Black & Decker in this case, and might even go so far as to say that the plaintiff should never have brought this lawsuit, especially considering the high degree of culpability that the plaintiff bore for his own accident (I admit that I probably would have rejected this case had it come to my office for this very reason) I think that this attitude is wrong both on public policy grounds, as well as for this specific case and plaintiff. Simply put, had this case never been brought, Black & Decker would have had no incentive to make their lawnmower safer for consumers by making it more difficult to accidentally engage the power switch, even though it is apparently a relatively simple modification. And without this case, the plaintiff would have been denied monetary compensation that Black & Decker owes him for their share of the fault for his accident.


Category: Keyword Search: New York law

3/8/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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As noted in our news section, a New York jury recently held that the manufacturer of a conveyor system was not liable for the personal injuries suffered by a man whose hand was caught in the machinery. Although the plaintiff's personal injuries in this particular case were severe, it certainly seems - at first blush - like the plaintiff pursued the wrong defendant.  Here's why:

In this case, the plaintiff claimed that the manufacturer should be held responsible for the serious injuries he sustained because the manufacturer should have warned against setting up the machine in close proximity to a table and offloading tray, since such a setup posed a risk of his hand getting caught in the gap between them. To say the least, this is a weak theory of liability, and the jury apparently concurred.

In rendering their verdict, the jury agreed with the defendant manufacturer's assertion that the defendant should not be held liable in negligence or otherwise, because there was no evidence that the product they manufactured was defective, and they should not be held responsible to warn against a dangerous condition that was created by the user (i.e., plaintiff's employer) rather than them.

This raises an important question: presumably, the plaintiff knew there was a weak case against the manufacturer. So why did plaintiff sue the manufacturer rather than what was presumably a much stronger case against his employer? The answer lies in the Workers' Compensation Law, which bars a claimant from suing his employer for work-related personal injuries unless he sustains one of the specifically delineated categories of  "grave injury" set forth in Workers' Compensation Law §11. Realizing the limitations imposed by the law, the plaintiff elected to pursue the only other potentially liable defendant - the manufacturer.

Category: Keyword Search: New York law