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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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6/30/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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On June 29, the New York Times reported on a tragic story involving 3 men who were killed when they were overcome by toxic hydrogen sulfide fumes that emanated from a well they had been hired to vacuum out by a Queens-based recycling company located on Douglas Avenue in Jamaica, opposite the Long Island Railroad. According to a Fire Department spokesman, their investigation revealed that the hydrogen sulfide found in the well was more than twice the amount that is considered "imminently dangerous," and that it likely proved deadly to these 3 men in under 10 minutes. On the other hand, this spokesman conceded that the source or origin of this deadly gas was not presently known. This leads to an important, albeit uncomfortable question: can anyone be held liable for the wrongful death of these 3 men who were hired to clean out the well? If so, under which theories of law?

Although a comprehensive discussion of the answer to this question is well beyond the scope of a blog post (a more detailed discussion of some of these topics can be found in "Why There Are So Few Successful Defective Products Lawsuits") the most likely theories of recovery are the following, each of which presents its own unique challenges:

  • Negligence - under this theory, the plaintiffs will have to show that the defendants failed to keep their premises safe for all foreseeable visitors (which should not be difficult in this circumstance), and that they either knew or should have known that their premises had this particular hazard, but failed to remedy the problem in a timely fashion before the accident occurred (a far more daunting thing to prove).
  • Strict Liability - under this theory, the plaintiffs will need to prove that their injuries (or death) was caused by exposure to a dangerous toxin or chemical (again, not too difficult to prove in this case), and that this chemical came from particular defendants. The latter part of this burden of proof will likely be far more difficult, especially when pursuing other companies beyond the recycler at whose premises the toxic exposure occurred.
Finally, it bears mention that anyone defending such a case will likely contend that the claims are barred by the doctrine of assumption of the risk, i.e., that these people were hired to clean out this hole, and knew full well the risk that it might contain toxic fumes, yet proceeded.

In short, although you might be inclined to think that a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit arising out of this incident would be a "slam dunk," you would be mistaken.

Category: Keyword Search: fatality

3/16/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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Congress' investigation into the facts underlying a head-on collision between two trains that resulted in hundreds of injured passengers and several fatalities has unearthed some extremely disturbing facts, particularly that one of the train's operators seems to have missed a critical signal because he was distracted by text messages he was either sending or receiving on his mobile phone at the time. For more on this topic, please read our article here.

Category: Keyword Search: fatality

2/5/2009
Jonathan Cooper
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In a case from Orange County in California that was reported yesterday, a jury held the local municipality liable for causing the collision between a car and the teenage boy’s bike, as a result of which the boy sustained serious personal injuries, including the loss of one leg below the knee.  From the news report, it seems fairly clear that the government intends to appeal the jury’s $8 million plus verdict, because from their vantage point, it is manifestly unfair to cast the lion’s share of liability on the municipality when they had no direct role in the bike and car crash; they did not own or operate either the car or the bike.  While, at first blush, the municipality’s argument seems meritorious, if you think a bit more critically, you will realize that their argument contravenes what we know from our everyday, real-world experience.

There are some intersections and streets that have had such a disproportionately high number of tragic car accidents and fatalities over the last several years (such as Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills and Rego Park in Queens County, New York, which the local papers have dubbed the “Boulevard of Death”) that it is clear to all that these roadways are defectively and dangerously designed.  Consequently, the better public policy is to hold the municipalities and states liable for these conditions; otherwise, these governmental entities will have far less incentive to assure the safety of their roads.

For additional information as to whether governmental or municipal authorities are liable for the dangerous conditions of intersections and roadways under New York law, you can read our article here.

Category: Keyword Search: fatality