Plaintiff stated a valid legal-malpractice cause of action against his former plaintiff’s-attorneys where the attorneys had failed to refresh the recollection of the sole eye witness with the police accident report before the witness was deposed. After the witness’s misdescription of the hit-and-run vehicle, plaintiff lost his personal-injury action.

Plaintiff stated a valid legal-malpractice cause of action against his former plaintiff’s-attorneys where the attorneys had failed to refresh the recollection of the sole eye witness with the police accident report before the witness was deposed. After the witness’s misdescription of the hit-and-run vehicle, plaintiff lost his personal-injury action. 

Reversing Supreme Court, the First Department stated that plaintiff stated a valid cause of action for legal malpractice against his former law firm’s motion.  The law firm had formerly represented plaintiff in the latter’s personal-injury lawsuit arising out of a hit-and-run accident.  Supreme Court had granted the law firm’s motion to dismiss and the First Department reversed.

Plaintiff had been struck by a garbage truck that had fled the scene.  The defendant-driver in the underlying personal injury action had been driving a green garbage truck with a flat front and had admitted to a route that would have placed him in at the scene on the day and at the time of the accident.  The police report regarding the accident showed that the sole eye witness had called the police shortly after the accident and had described the hit-and-run vehicle as a green garbage truck with a flat front.

The eye witness was deposed two years after the accident and testified that that the garbage truck he remembered fleeing the scene had a round front, not a flat front.  Plaintiff lost his personal-injury suit.

Plaintiff alleged in the subject malpractice action that defendant law firm had failed to refresh the recollection of the sole eyewitness before the deposition about the appearance of the truck, which led to erroneous testimony by the witness and which but for that negligence had caused the loss of plaintiff’s personal-injury case.

The First Department held that these allegations were sufficient to survive a CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (7) motion to dismiss, as nothing in the record conclusively established a defense as a matter of law.

The First Department also granted plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint stating that plaintiff’s proposed amendments (without elucidation as to what they were), stating that the amendments were not “patently devoid of merit” and would not prejudice or surprise defendants.

Caso v Miranda Sambursky Sloane Sklarin Ver Veniotis LLP, 2017 NY Slip Op 03607, 1st Dept 5-4-17.

Building owner’s status as additional insured on lessee’s policy did not entitle building owner to defense and indemnification by lessee’s insurer where slip and fall occurred in parking lot and lessee did not lease and was not required to maintain parking lot. 

The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s ruling that a lessee’s insurer had no duty to defend and indemnify a building owner in an underlying slip-and-fall accident that had occurred in the building’s parking lot.  In the underlying action, the underlying plaintiff was an employee of a non-party tenant L who leased part of the building from underlying-defendant Building Owner.  Tenant L’s lease stated that the parking lot was a common area and that Building Owner was responsible for its maintenance including snow removal.  Another tenant U [Tenant U] and Building Owner were owned by the same principals.  The underlying plaintiff alleged that he slipped and fell on black ice in the parking lot and sued Building Owner and Tenant U in the underlying action.

At the time of the accident, Building Owner and Tenant U had a commercial liability insurance policy in effect with Citizens Insurance [Building Owner’s Insurer], who was also a plaintiff in the DJ action.  Tenant L had a commercial liability insurance policy in effect with defendant Valley Forge Insurance [Tenant L’s Insurer].  Tenant L’s insurance policy contained an endorsement providing coverage for Building Owner as an additional insured for “liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that part of the premises leased to [Tenant L] and shown in the Schedule” (emphasis supplied). The “Schedule” stated that Tenant L had leased “Unit 2” of the building and made no reference to the parking lot.  Building Owner tendered to Tenant L’s Insurer its claim for a defense and indemnification in the underlying action as an additional insured, but Tenant L’s Insurer denied Building Owner’s tender on the ground that the potential liability did not arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the part of the premises leased to Tenant L.  Tenant L’s Insurer argued that, according to the lease, the parking lot was a common area outside of the leased premises, and that Building Owner was responsible for snow and ice removal from the parking lot.  Building Owner and its insurer Citizens Insurance then commenced the subject DJ action against Tenant L’s Insurer seeking, among other things, a declaration that Tenant L’s Insurer was obligated to defend and indemnify Building Owner and Tenant U in the underlying action. Tenant L’s Insurer moved for summary judgment, which Supreme Court granted.  Building Owner and its insurer appealed.

First, the Second Department made short shrift of plaintiffs’ contention that the motion for summary judgment by Tenant L’s Insurer was premature, stating that plaintiffs failed to offer an evidentiary basis to suggest that discovery might lead to relevant evidence.

Second, moving to the merits, the Second Department cited the following points of black letter law:

  • An insurer’s duty to defend is exceedingly broad.
  • An additional insured is entitled to the same coverage as if it were a named insured.
  • The insurer is required to defend the entire action if any of the claims against an insured arguably arise from covered events.
  • “Arising out of” requires only that there be some causal relationship between the injury and the risk for which coverage is provided.
  • An insurer does not wish to be liable for losses arising from risks associated with a premises for which the insurer has not evaluated the risk and received a premium.
  • Unambiguous provisions of an insurance contract must be given their plain and ordinary meaning and the interpretation of policy language is a question of law for the courts.

The Second Department then held that Tenant L’s Insurer established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law:

  • The additional-insured endorsement unambiguously provided that Building Owner was an additional insured for liability “arising out of” the “ownership, maintenance or use” of the “premises leased” to Tenant L.
  • Tenant L leased only a portion of the building from Building Owner, not the parking lot where the accident occurred.
  • Tenant L had no duty to maintain the parking lot.
  • There was therefore no causal relationship between the injury and the risk for which coverage was provided, so the underlying plaintiff’s injury was not a bargained-for risk.
  • In opposition, plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether Building Owner was an additional insured with regard to the accident, which occurred outside of the leased premises

The Second Department therefore remitted to Supreme Court for entry of a judgment declaring that Tenant L’s Insurer was not obligated to defend and indemnify Building Owner or Tenant U in the underlying action.

 Atlantic Ave. Sixteen AD, Inc. v Valley Forge Ins. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 04243, 2nd Dept 5-31-17

Question of fact defeated defendant metal-concert venue’s motion for summary judgment on the ground of primary assumption of risk regarding plaintiff’s injury from moshing. 

Plaintiff was a first-time attendee at a general-admission “metal” (a/k/a heavy metal) concert at defendant’s concert hall.  Plaintiff alleged he was pushed from behind in the mosh pit and was hit in the eye as he was attempting to exit the mosh pit.

Per Wikipedia, moshing or slamdancing is a style of dance in which participants push or slam into each other typically performed to “aggressive” live music. Moshing usually happens in an area called the “pit” (sometimes called a “mosh pit”) near the stage. It is intended to be energetic and full of body contact.

Defendant’s general manager testified at his deposition that there were two state-licensed security guards on duty that evening; the show was almost sold out; and moshing would be stopped if and when it became unsafe and affected bystanders.

Defendant moved for summary judgment vis-à-vis plaintiff’s negligence causes of action, on the grounds that (a) plaintiff had assumed the risk (primary assumption of risk) or alternatively (b) that an unforeseen and sudden criminal act of an uncontrollable third party caused the incident and defendant had taken adequate security measures.

The Second Department declined to grant defendant summary judgment on the first ground (the doctrine of primary assumption of risk), finding questions of fact.  Primary assumption of risk is a complete defense and applies when a consenting participant in a qualified activity is aware of the risks, has an appreciation of the nature of the risks, and voluntarily assumes the risks.  A person who chooses to engage in such an activity consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the activity generally and flow from such participation,  The duty owed in these situations is a duty to exercise care to make the conditions as safe as they appear to be.  The doctrine has generally been restricted to particular athletic and recreative activities in recognition that such pursuits have enormous social value even while they may involve significantly heightened risks and are, therefore, worthy of insulation from a breach of duty claim.

[NB: Under secondary assumption of risk, assumption of the risk is merged into the comparative fault scheme, and the trier of fact, in apportioning the loss resulting from the injury, may consider the relative responsibilities of the parties.  NY PJI 2:55.]

Without reaching the question of whether attending a metal music concert where “moshing” takes place is a qualified activity under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, the Second Department held that defendant failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to whether it met its duty to exercise care to make the conditions at the subject venue as safe as they appeared to be and whether it unreasonably increased the usual risks inherent in the activity of concert going.  Defendant also failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to whether the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury, whether the plaintiff’s alleged injuries were foreseeable, and whether defendant provided adequate security measures and, if not, whether its failure was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.   Nevo v Knitting Factory Brooklyn, Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 03186, 2nd Dept 4-26-17

In no-fault loss-transfer arbitration, carrier’s failure to apply for stay waived its claim that arbitrator lacked jurisdiction to rule on carrier’s retroactive rescission of policy. 

Hereford Ins. was the subrogee of two passengers in a “for hire” vehicle” that had been rear-ended by Infinite Indemnity’s insured.   Infinity Indemnity participated in and opposed the arbitration arguing that after the accident it had retroactively rescinded the policy so that there was no coverage on the date of the accident.  The arbitrator rejected that argument and made two awards in favor of Hereford Ins.

Infinite Indemnity then brought the instant article 75 proceeding under CPLR 7511 to vacate the awards on two grounds:  (a) the retroactive rescission deprived the arbitrator of jurisdiction over the arbitration and (b) the arbitrator should have applied Pennsylvania law (where the policy was obtained) instead of New York law.  Hereford Ins. cross-petitioned to confirm the awards.  Supreme Court confirmed the awards in favor Hereford Insurance which the Second Department affirmed, holding that Infinite Indemnity’s claims were meritless.

With regard to Infinite Indemnity’s contention that its “good faith” retroactive denial of insurance coverage divested the arbitrator of jurisdiction, the Second Department stated that Insurance Law § 5105(b) provides that arbitration is the only forum in which a loss-transfer claim may be litigated and that by failing to apply for a stay of the arbitration, Infinite Indemnity waived its claim that the claim was not arbitrable.  In addition, any possible error by the arbitrator in applying New York law was no basis for vacatur.   Matter of Infinity Indem. Ins. Co. v Hereford Ins. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 03177, 2nd Dept 4-26-17

Defendant Starwood Hotel’s motion for summary judgment was premature regarding a slip and fall that occurred at a Four Points By Sheraton hotel in Michigan which was owned by an unrelated Michigan corporation.

This case is plaintiff’s second attempt to find a defendant subject to jurisdiction in New York.  In this case, plaintiff sued Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (Starwood) for her trip and fall on a defective walkway at the Four Points by Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel in Michigan.  The Four Points Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel was owned by ZLC Inc., a Michigan corporation unrelated to defendant Starwood.

By way of background, plaintiff had previously sued ZLC, Inc. unsuccessfully in New York premising long-arm jurisdiction on plaintiff’s having made her hotel reservation from her New York residence via an interactive website maintained by Starwood for Sheraton hotels.   During her stay at the Sheraton hotel in Ann Arbor, plaintiff tripped over a walkway in the hotel lobby and fractured her knee.  Defendant owner ZLC was a Michigan corporation that used the trademark name “Sheraton” pursuant to a license agreement and had no other hotels and no bank accounts, real estate, or other contacts with New York.  The First Department dismissed plaintiff’s case against ZLC because ZLC’s participation in the interactive website was too remote to support long-arm or specific jurisdiction under CPLR 302(a)(1) and there was no tortious act committed outside New York that injured plaintiff within New York under CPLR 302(1)(3).  Stern v Four Points by Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel, 2015 NY Slip Op 08501 [133 AD3d 514] (1st Dep’t 2015)  http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2015/2015_08501.htm.

In plaintiff’s instant suit against Starwood, the First Department stated that ZLC operated the hotel using the “Four Points by Sheraton” name pursuant to a license agreement with nonparty The Sheraton Corporation, which was identified in the agreement as “an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary” of Starwood.

Starwood moved for summary judgment based on demonstrated proof that

  • Starwood did not own or control the hotel,
  • Under the terms of the license agreement with Sheraton, ZLC was an independent contractor and was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the hotel, and
  • Even if Starwood were a party to the license (or franchise) agreement, the mere existence of a franchise relationship provided no basis for imposing vicarious liability on Starwood for the negligence of non-party franchisee ZLC.

In opposition, plaintiff submitted evidence that Starwood’s reservations website holds the hotel out to the public as being a Starwood property and that plaintiff relied on the representations on Starwood’s website in choosing to book a room at the hotel.

The First Department held that this evidence of public representations and reliance may support a finding of apparent or ostensible agency that in turn may impose vicarious liability on Starwood. Although the license agreement required ZLC to disclose that it was an “independent legal entity operating under license” from Sheraton and to place “notices of independent ownership” on the premises, Starwood did not provide any evidence that ZLC complied with those requirements.  The First Department therefore affirmed denial of Starwood’s motion for summary judgment as being premature and granted plaintiff discovery under CPLR 3212(f) of matter exclusively within Starwood’s control about its possible agency relationship with the hotel, including its reservations system and advertising.

Stern v Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 02882 (1st Dep’t 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_02882.htm.

Extrinsic evidence as to the extent of a FEMA Zone created a question of fact as to a policy exclusion that excluded coverage for specified FEMA Zones.

The First Department affirmed the denial of cross-motions by plaintiff-insured and defendant-insurer for summary judgment with regard to a flood exclusion.  Defendant-carrier provided property and casualty coverage for several of plaintiff’s brewery premises throughout New York City. The policy limited coverage for flooding, but specifically excluded “loss or damage to property located in “Flood Zones A or V as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).”  During Superstorm Sandy, plaintiff’s premises at 93 South Street sustained substantial flood damage. When plaintiff presented its claim to defendant, defendant declined coverage because the premises was located in FEMA Zone AE, which defendant asserts is a subzone of Zone A. Plaintiff challenged this interpretation, claiming that Zone AE is not a subzone or part of Zone A, but rather is separately defined under FEMA’s regulations (44 CFR § 59.1, et seq.).

The First Department recited the following black-letter principals of insurance construction:

  • The ambiguity vel non of an insurance policy term is a question of law.
  • The policy provision is to be read in light of common speech and interpreted according to the reasonable expectations and purposes of ordinary business[]people when making ordinary business contracts .
  • Exclusions must be specific and clear in order to be enforced  (and ambiguities in exclusions are to be construed  most strongly  against the insurer.
  • There are circumstances where extrinsic evidence may be admitted prior to an exclusion being strictly construed against an and where ambiguous words are to be construed in the light of extrinsic evidence or the surrounding circumstances, the meaning of such words may become a question of fact for the jury.

Here, the language of FEMA’s flood zone regulations raises an issue of fact rendering the insurance policy’s exclusion of flood coverage ambiguous.

 Heartland Brewery, Inc. v Nova Cas. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 02908 (1st Dep’t April 13, 2017)

http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_02908.htm

Defendant lessors and building manager had no duty to protect tenant psychologist from being murdered by her former patient.

Defendants provided satisfactory security and nothing more would have prevented the premediated murder.  Plaintiff’s decedent Kathryn Faughey was a psychologist in a psychiatric office who was murdered by former patient non-party David Tarloff in decedent’s office.  Decedent leased her office from defendant psychiatric office which leased its space from defendant building owner and defendant building manager.  The Appellate Division First Department affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint holding that defendants had no duty to protect decedent from the violent actions of third parties including former patients because such actions were not foreseeable given the absence of prior violent criminal activity by the patient or other third parties in the building.   Moreover, defendants had satisfied any duty to provide “minimal precautions” by providing 24/7 doorman coverage, surveillance cameras, controlled building access, and functioning locks on the doors of the office suite and of decedent’s personal office.   The First Department stated that it was pure speculation that any claimed additional security measures such as announcing visitors, installing an office intercom or buzzer, or keeping the office doors locked after hours would have prevented the former patient from killing the decedent.

The First Department also held that the door man’s alleged negligence in failing to recognize the patient’s suspicious behavior could not have been a proximate cause of decedent’s death because it was still unforeseeable that the patient was about to engage in a murderous rampage. The patient’s conduct was a superseding cause severing the causal chain. Given that the attack was targeted and premeditated, it was unlikely that any reasonable security measures would have deterred Tarloff.

Faughey v. New 56-79 IG Assoc., L.P.,  2017 NY Slip Opn 02608 (Apr. 4, 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_02608.htm

 

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kathryn_Faughey provides additional facts:  decedent Top of Form

Kathryn Faughey was a 56-year-old New York City psychologist who was murdered by 39-year-old David Tarloff at Dr. Faughey’s upper East Side Manhattan office on the night of February 12, 2008.  David Tarloff had exhibited disturbing behaviors for almost two decades, and was well-known to the medical and psychiatric establishment and the police force. During these years, up to the time of Dr. Faughey murder, Tarloff received a wide range of psychiatric assessments and treatments including medication and electroshock therapy by force.

On the evening of the murder, Tarloff walked past the doorman rolling a suitcase behind him (as seen on the building’s surveillance video) and saying that he was there to see Dr. Kent Schinbach (a psychiatrist in the same office). Tarloff waited in the office reception area chatting with a patient, while one of Dr. Faughey’s evening sessions was in progress. After Dr. Faughey’s session concluded and when he knew that Faughey was alone in her office, he entered the room and attacked her with a meat cleaver. Dr. Schinbach attempted to help her, but was seriously wounded by slashes in the face and neck.

Tarloff was arrested, arraigned for the murder, and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after which he was determined to be mentally competent to stand trial. There was evidence that the attack had been premeditated but that the intended victim was Schinbach.  Tarloff told police that he had planned to rob Schinbach, who he remembered as being involved in diagnosing him with schizophrenia in 1991 and arranging for his institutionalization at that time.

After two mistrials, Tarloff was convicted of first-degree murder of Dr. Faughey and first-degree assault of Dr. Schinbach.  Tarloff was sentenced for life without the possibility of parole for the murder and 25 years for the assault.

Defendants’ motion to change venue was untimely as to improper venue and was unwarranted as to the inconvenience of witnesses.

There were two grounds to defendants’ objection to the venue of the action: first, that the county was improper (“improper venue”) and second, that the witnesses were inconvenienced by the county plaintiff had chosen (“inconvenient venue”). Defendants’ motion as to the first ground (improper venue) was late and as to the second (inconvenient venue) was unwarranted.

Timing of motion re improper venue. Where defendant objects to the county in which plaintiff has commenced suit (under CPLR 510(1), defendant must serve a demand for change of venue on or before the date the answer is served. CPLR 511(a). Unless plaintiff consents to the transfer of venue within five days of defendant’s demand, defendant must move within 15 days from the date of filing his demand for change of venue to the proper county. CPLR 511(b); Alexander, Practice Commentary C511:2 Motion to Transfer Based on Improper Venue: “Demand Procedure” (Main Commentary, McKinney’s).

Here, defendants met the first deadline by electronically filing their demand for change of venue with their answer on July 14, 2015. In so doing, defendants consented to electronic filing, which thereafter required defendants to electronically file and serve all documents that were thereafter required to be filed with the court. 22 NYCRR 202.5-b(d) (1)(i).

Defendants, however, missed the second deadline by two days: seventeen days after electronically filing and serving their demand for a change of venue, defendants served by U.S. mail their motion to change venue. Defendants attempted to argue that CPLR 2103(b)(2) (which gives an extra five days for service by mail when a prescribed period of time is measured from the service of paper and service is mailed) added an extra five days to the fifteen-day time limit. The First Department rejected that argument holding that because defendants had already consented to electronic service and filing, they were bound by the time limits applicable to electronic filling and could not avail themselves of the extension of time for mailing.
Inconvenience of witnesses. CPLR 510 sets forth two additional grounds for change of venue: inability to obtain an impartial trail (CPLR 510(2)) and inconvenience of witnesses (CPLR 510(3)). These two grounds are “discretionary” grounds. Alexander, Practice Commentary C510:1 Motions for Change of Venue, In General (Main Commentary, McKinney’s). These defendants also argued that the venue was inconvenient for their witnesses.
The First Department held without elaboration that defendants failed to show that a change of venue was warranted due to the inconvenience of material witnesses because their motion papers did not address the factors enumerated in Cardona v Aggressive Heating, 180 AD2d 572 (1st Dep’t 1992). [Cardona requires that the movant provide (1) the identity of the proposed witnesses, (2) the manner in which they will be inconvenienced by a trial in the county in which the action was commenced, (3) that the witnesses have been contacted and are available and willing to testify for the movant, (4) the nature of the anticipated testimony, and (5) the manner in which the anticipated testimony is material to the issues raised in the case.]
Woodward v Millbrook Ventures LLC, 2017 NY Slip Op 02522 (1st Dep’t Mar. 30, 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_02522.htm

Res ipso loquitur did not apply in an escalator case where there was no objective evidence of malfunctioning

Res ipso loquitur did not apply in an escalator case where there was no objective evidence of malfunctioning (plaintiff misstepped onto the escalator and there was no proof of malfunction), but did apply in an elevator case where the elevator unexplainedly stopped suddenly and abruptly.

Summary judgment was affirmed to Macy’s and to its independent escalator servicing company because neither defendant had any notice of the alleged escalator defect either before or after the incident, and because the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply.

The store’s manager and the escalator company’s mechanic both testified that they received no reports of the escalator’s shaking or stopping and starting before or after the date of plaintiff’s accident.  Nor did anyone, including plaintiff, before or after her accident, observe the escalators stop and start several times in succession, as plaintiff claimed occurred when she fell.  There was evidence, however, that plaintiff fell after misstepping onto the elevator and that after her fall, she successfully rode the escalator up to the next level with no further escalator malfunction.  Moreover, defendant’s expert opined that plaintiff’s description of the alleged malfunctioning was a mechanical impossibility because it would have resulted in a catastrophic mechanical failure of the escalator that would have resulted in observable problems and would have required a significant repair, none of which occurred.

Plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact.  Her expert relied on a bare-bones print-out of prior elevator incidents that was unauthenticated and that gave no indication that the incidents were similar to the one at issue.  The print-out was therefore inadmissible as proof of prior incidents.  Also inadmissible were service calls made by Macy’s to the elevator servicing company four and five months before plaintiff’s incident.  The calls pertained to an escalator on a different level that was not running, which was a malfunction that was unrelated to the type plaintiff described.  Moreover, plaintiff’s expert’s opinion that the accident was caused by a defective step chain and a lack of proper and adequate preventative maintenance was speculative and conclusory.

Lastly, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which would permit a jury to infer negligence based upon the sheer happening of the event, was inapplicable:  The escalator never operated in the manner that plaintiff described either before or after her incident, and plaintiff, after her fall, rode the escalator up to the next level without further malfunctioning.   The evidence of plaintiff’s misstepping getting onto the escalator created the possibility of plaintiff’s own negligence in causing the accident.  And res ipsa loquitur could not be applied to Macy’s because Macy’s had ceded all responsibility for the daily operation, repair and maintenance of the escalator to the servicing company via a full-service contract.

Torres-Martinez v Macy’s, Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 00429 (1st Dep’t Jan. 24, 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_00429.htm.

In contrast, however, the First Department did apply res ipsa loquitur to defeat the motion for summary judgment by defendant NYC Housing Authority in a case where plaintiff was injured when an elevator came to a unexplained sudden and abrupt stop; defendant failed to demonstrate that it lacked exclusive control over the elevator; and there was no evidence that vandalism caused the elevator’s malfunction or that plaintiff’s actions contributed to the accident.

Galante v. New York City Hous. Auth, 2017 NY Slip Opn  00430 (1st Dep’t Jan. 24, 2017) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_00430.htm

Met Opera’s motion to dismiss a star’s negligence action against it was properly denied.

In a decision by Justice Rolando Acosta, the First Department affirmed Special Term’s denial of the Met Opera’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence action.  The Met based its motion on plaintiff’s status as the Met’s employee or special employee, which would have relegated plaintiff to the exclusive remedy of worker’s compensation per WCL §11.

By way of background, the New York Times reported on December 18, 2011 that mezzo soprano Wendy White, while singing the role of Marthe in Gounod’s “Faust” the preceding evening, fell from a platform eight feet above the stage as she made her entrance in Act III.   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/arts/music/opera-singer-wendy-white-in-stable-condition-after-a-fall-at-the-met.html.   As she walked onto a platform from a staircase, a hinge on a piece of plywood that connected the platform to the stairway broke, and Ms. White disappeared from view.  The curtain was dropped and Ms. White was taken to the hospital.  Id.  Ms. White broke no bones but suffered nerve and muscle damage that has prevented her from singing professionally.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/music/wendy-white-says-met-refuses-to-pay-her-after-injury.html.

At issue on the Met’s motion to dismiss was Workers’ Comp. Law§ 2(4), which was enacted in 1986 to define “employee” to include those in the performing arts:

“a professional musician or a person otherwise engaged in the performing arts who performs services as such for … a theatre … or similar establishment … unless, by written contract, such musician or person is stipulated to be an employee of another employer covered by this chapter.”

WCL §2(4) (emph. supplied).

Plaintiff performed at the opera house pursuant to a “Standard Contractor’s Agreement (Per Performance”) between the Met and her corporation, Wendy White, Inc. (WW, Inc.), which defined WW, Inc. as the “Contractor”.

Notwithstanding various provisions of the Standard Contract and the collective bargaining agreement covering Ms. White, which gave the Met a certain amount of control over Ms. White in her performances, the First Department found the following factors important in denying the Met’s motion to dismiss:

  • The Standard Contractor’s Agreement was between the Met and plaintiff’s corporation and specified that plaintiff was an employee of her corporation.
  • The Standard Contractor’s Agreement did not cede total control of Ms. White’s performance to the Met, so the Met did not become her special employer.
  • Plaintiff’s corporation received only 1099’s, not W-2’s from the Met.
  • The Met paid her no employment benefits and had told her she did not qualify for the Met’s health insurance because she was not an employee.
  • The Met provided her with no training, supervision, or direction from the Met with respect to how to perform her role and did not pay for her voice lessons or coaching.
  • The legislative history behind section 2(4) stated that the section was intended to cover the vast majority of musicians and performers who are not in the star category, as opposed to star performers who are independent professionals able to negotiate the terms of their engagements.
  • Without plaintiff’s consent, the Met filed a worker’s compensation claim in New York with its worker’s compensation, which the Met’s WC carrier accepted “without prejudice”.
  • The Worker’s Compensation Board cancelled its proposed decision of accident, notice and causal relationship on the ground that claimant wanted the case to be discontinued because she had filed her own WC claim in New Jersey against her corporation-employer.
  • The Met had previously taken the opposite position in an unrelated case, Inre Metropolitan Opera Assn., Inc. and Operatic Artists of America, (327 NLRB No. 136, 327 NLRB 740, 744-745 1999 WL 112550, *9, 1999 NLRB LEXIS 113, *29-30 [NLRB 1999]).

Plaintiff’s corporation therefore met the definition of an “employer covered by this chapter,” inasmuch as it is a corporation “having one or more persons in employment” per WCL § 2(3).

Lastly, the failure of plaintiff’s corporation to have obtained a workers’ compensation policy compliant with WCL §50(2) did not mean that plaintiff was necessarily covered by the Met’s worker’s compensation policy, because the statutory consequence of failing to obtain such a policy is simply payment of a penalty.  In addition, WCL §54(6)(c) provides that a corporation such as plaintiff’s, whose sole employee is an executive officer who owns 100% of the stock, need not purchase workers’ compensation for the employee.  Moreover, plaintiff’s corporation was not seeking to invoke the benefits of the immunity provision of WCL §11 without fulfilling its corresponding obligation under the statute.

White v. Metropolitan Opera Ass’n, 2017 NY Slip Op. 00093 (Jan. 5, 2017)   http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_00093.htm

Defendant homeowner’s insurer properly rescinded the policy based on insureds’ innocent misrepresentation that the home was to be occupied, and the insurance broker had no duty to make sure the insureds properly filled out the application.

The Second Department held that defendant insurer properly rescinded plaintiffs’ fire insurance policy based upon the plaintiffs’ misrepresentation the residence would be owner-occupied because a misrepresentation can be innocently made and still trigger rescission. The Second Department also found that the broker had no obligation to make sure that plaintiffs properly filled out the insurance application.

Before plaintiffs bought the subject residence in Brooklyn, plaintiffs’ mortgage broker told plaintiffs that plaintiffs needed insurance to close.  The mortgage broker contacted defendant insurance broker to procure a homeowners’ insurance policy based upon plaintiffs’ representations in their loan application that they would occupy the premises as their primary residence.  Plaintiffs signed an application for owner-occupied homeowner’s insurance and defendant insurance carrier issued a homeowner’s insurance policy on the closing date.

After fire damaged the premises, defendant insurer discovered that plaintiffs did not occupy the premises as their primary residence and rescinded the policy, on the ground that plaintiffs’ material  representation about occupancy induced the insurer to issue a policy that it normally would not have issued.

Plaintiffs sued the insurer and the insurance broker for breach of contract and negligence. Held:  Supreme Court properly granted summary judgment to defendant insurer and defendant insurance and properly denied the plaintiffs’ cross motion for summary judgment against both defendants.

The insurer established its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by submitting evidence showing that the plaintiffs’ application for insurance contained a misrepresentation regarding whether the premises would be owner occupied and showing that it would not have issued the subject policy if the application had disclosed that the subject premises would not be owner occupied.  In holding that plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact, the Second Department  stated:

  • Plaintiffs admitted that, when they signed the application for insurance, they did not intend to occupy the premises. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully contended that, although the application was completed before to closing and before to the inception of the policy, the representation that the premises was an owner-occupied primary residence established, in effect, a material misrepresentation of a then existing fact that the premises would be owner occupied, which was sufficient for rescission under Insurance Law § 3105.
  • Secondary evidence of plaintiffs’ first application for insurance which plaintiffs signed was proof in admissible form under CPLR 4539[b]). And plaintiff’s unsigned second application was also admissible.
  • The question on the application about owner occupancy was unambiguous and therefore could properly serve as the basis for a claim of misrepresentation. Moreover, plaintiffs admitted that they did not read the application when they signed it, so they could not have been misled by any unclear language.
  • The insurer was not required to establish that plaintiffs’ misrepresentation was willful. An innocent or unintentional material misrepresentation is enough to warrant rescission of an insurance policy.
  • The policy language did not require a showing of willfulness for rescission based on a misrepresentation made when applying for coverage.
  • Although there was a question of fact as to whether the insurance broker was an agent or a broker vis-à-vis the insurer, there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurance broker knew of the material misrepresentation, so no such knowledge could not be imputed to the insurer.

With regard to the insurance broker, insurance brokers have a common-law duty to obtain coverage that their client request within a reasonable time or inform the client of the inability to do so, but they have no continuing duty to advise, guide or direct a client to obtain additional coverage.  So to state cause of action for negligence or breach of contract against an insurance broker, plaintiff must establish that a specific request was made to the broker for the coverage that was not provided in the policy.

Although in exceptional circumstances a special relationship may develop between the broker and client that will make the broker liable for failing to advise or direct the client to obtain additional coverage even in the absence of a specific request, none of those circumstances applied here.  The three exceptional situations are: (1) the agent receives compensation for consultation apart from payment of the premiums; (2) there was some interaction regarding a question of coverage, with the insured relying on the expertise of the agent; or (3) there is a course of dealing over an extended period of time which would have put objectively reasonable insurance agents on notice that their advice was being sought and specially relied on.

The insurance broker demonstrated that none of the exception circumstances applied and further demonstrated that it procured the insurance requested.

Joseph v Interboro Ins. Co., 2016 NY Slip Op 08050, 2nd Dept 11-30-16 http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_08050.htm

Tort-plaintiff is entitled to “made whole” rule vis-à-vis his no-fault carrier’s subrogation right against his tort settlement.

Tort-plaintiff (“plaintiff”) had sued tort-defendant (“defendant”) for plaintiff’s personal injuries resulting from their two-car accident.  Plaintiff’s no-fault carrier had paid plaintiff $100,000 in APIP (additional personal injury protection), which the no-fault carrier has the right to recoup from plaintiff’s tort settlement.

Defendant’s carrier eventually offered defendant’s policy limit of $100,000 to settle plaintiff’s case.  Plaintiff accepted the offer and served a supreme-court order to show cause on plaintiff’s no-fault carrier requesting a declaration that the no-fault carrier’s subrogation rights were limited to extended economic loss (that is, to the portion of the settlement allocable to the category of damages for which APIP benefits were meant to compensate).  Respondent did not oppose supreme court’s adjudicating the dispute over its subrogation rights but contended that plaintiff owed it the full amount of the APIP benefits paid (some $39,500).   Supreme court directed plaintiff to pay the no-fault carrier the full amount of APIP benefits paid.   Plaintiff thereupon formally tendered the amount and pursed his appeal.

The no-fault carrier argued preliminarily that plaintiff’s tender of payment made the appeal moot, but the Fourth Department held that it did not, because the parties’ rights would be affected directly by the outcome of the appeal.

Plaintiff argued that, under the “made whole” rule, the no-fault carrier had no right of subrogation because plaintiff’s damages exceed the amount of the settlement.

[Explanatory note with regard to subrogation: If defendant’s insurance is insufficient to compensate plaintiff fully for plaintiff’s loss, plaintiff retains a right of action against defendant personally.  In those cases where plaintiff has his own insurance that covers the balance of plaintiff’s loss (first-party insurance), and plaintiff’s first-party insurer in fact pays him, plaintiff’s first-party insurer acquires plaintiff’s right to pursue the defendant for the amount that plaintiff’s first-party insurer has paid.  To state it another way, plaintiff’s first-party insurer is subrogated to plaintiff’s claim against defendant.

[The “made whole” rule then provides that if defendant’s insurance is inadequate to fully compensate plaintiff for his losses, plaintiff’s first-party insurer, whom the insured has paid to assume the risk of loss, has no right to share in the proceeds of the insured-plaintiff’s recovery from the tort-defendant.  In other words, plaintiff’s first-party insurer may subrogate against only those funds and assets that remain after plaintiff-insured has been fully compensated.  This designation of priority of interests assures that the injured party’s claim against the tort-defendant takes precedence over the subrogation rights of his first-party insurer.

[Here plaintiff’s own insurer was his no-fault carrier which paid plaintiff “additional personal injury protection” (APIP) benefits, also known as extended economic loss.  Therefore plaintiff’s no-fault carrier would be subrogated only to plaintiff’s recovery after plaintiff was made whole and then only for the portion of settlement attributable to economic loss, not to plaintiff’s pain and suffering.]

Supreme court here, however, refused to apply the made-whole rule or to prorate the settlement between extended economic loss and pain and suffering, and instead had directed plaintiff to pay his no-fault insurer the entire amount of APIP benefits.

The Fourth Department agreed with plaintiff that supreme court should have applied the made-whole rule but remanded the matter for a determination as to (a) whether the settlement made plaintiff whole and (b) what portion of the $100,000 settlement was for plaintiff’s extended economic loss and what portion was for plaintiff’s pain and suffering.

The Fourth Department therefor reversed supreme court’s judgment (which had the additional defect of failing to declare the rights of the parties) and remitted the matter for the required determinations and for a judgment declaring the rights of the parties in accordance therewith.

Grinage v Durawa [in re ACA Insurance Co., respondent], 2016 NY Slip Op 07429 (4th Dep’t Nov. 10, 2016);  http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_07429.htm.

The Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment to defendant physician vis-à-vis causation, on the ground that defendant’s expert’s affidavit failed to meet defendant’s initial burden on his motion.

Parsing plaintiff’s bill of particulars, a majority of the Court of Appeals (Judges DiFiore, Pigott, Garcia, and Fahey) reversed the First Department’s grant of summary judgment to medmal-defendant physician on proximate causation, on the ground that defendant failed to meet his initial burden on his motion.  The Court of Appeals expressly left open, however, the appropriate standard that governs the opposing party’s burden once the burden shifts to the opposition party in a medmal motion for summary judgment.

Defendant moved for summary judgement on the issue of proximate cause and submitted in support the affidavit of his medical expert which characterized plaintiff’s allegations of malpractice as “center[ed] around an alleged contraindicated prescription by [defendant] to plaintiff of Lipitor separately and/or in conjunction with Azithromycin”.  The majority ruled that plaintiff’s bill of particulars asserted that the negligent CONCURRENT administration of two drugs (Lipitor and azithromycin) proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries, not just that the administration of one drug (Lipitor) exacerbated plaintiff’s adverse reaction to the other (azithromycin).

According to the majority opinion, defendant’s expert did not address the effect of azithromycin administered alone or in conjunction with Lipitor, and addressed azithromycin only in conclusory statements unsupported by any reference to medical research.

In opposition, plaintiff and his experts asserted that defendant’s expert did not adequately address the concurrent azithromycin prescription and did not cite to any medical research in support of his conclusions about the combined effect. Accordingly, plaintiff argued, defendant failed as a matter of law to eliminate all triable issues of fact regarding whether the combined effect of the drugs could have proximately caused plaintiff’s injury (a heart block).

The Court of Appeals sided with plaintiff and held that defendant’s expert proffered only conclusory assertions unsupported by any medical research that defendant’s actions in prescribing both drugs concurrently did not proximately cause plaintiff’s injury and did not adequately address plaintiff’s allegations that the concurrent Lipitor and azithromycin prescriptions caused plaintiff’s injuries. By ignoring the possible effect of the azithromycin prescription, defendant’s expert failed to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact as to proximate causation, so defendant was not entitled to summary judgment. And because defendant failed to meet his prima facie burden, it was unnecessary to review the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s opposition papers.

Judge Fahey concurred in the majority decision but wrote separately to emphasize that the Court took no position on the split of authority between the First and Second Departments on plaintiff’s burden of coming forward with evidence once defendant makes his prima facie showing on a motion for summary judgment.

In dissent, Judge Stein, joined by Judge Rivera and Judge Abdus-Salaam, would have affirmed summary judgment to defendant because a fair reading of plaintiff’s bill of particulars showed that plaintiff’s claim centered on plaintiff’s adverse reaction to Lipitor that was exacerbated by prescribing the concurrent administration of Azithromycin.  Because defendant met his initial burden on his motion, the burden should have shifted to plaintiff who failed (in the dissent’s view) to raise a question of fact because of an insurmountable gap between the data relied on by plaintiff’s experts and their conclusion that Lipitor either alone or in conjunction with the other drug caused plaintiff’s injuries. Pullman v. Silverman, 2016 NY Slip Opn 07107 (Nov. 1 2016http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_07107.htm

Business records – affiant’s failure to assert familiarity with plaintiff’s record-keeping practices and procedures was fatal to plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment of foreclosure.

The Second Department reversed summary judgment of foreclosure to plaintiff and awarded defendant-borrower one bill of costs.

Defendant-borrower had executed a note in favor of Original Lender and a mortgage in favor of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) acting as nominee for Original Lender.   Original Lender thereafter assigned the mortgage to plaintiff.   Plaintiff commenced this action alleging that defendant had defaulted on his loan payments.  After commencement of the action, plaintiff then assigned the mortgage to Subsequent Assignee, who continued the prosecution of this action under plaintiff’s name as plaintiff.

Defendant answered and asserted as an affirmative defense that plaintiff lacked standing to commence the action.  Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the complaint and defendant cross-moved for leave to amend his answer to assert certain counterclaims.  Supreme Court granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the complaint and denied defendant’s cross motion to amend his answer.

Because defendant challenged plaintiff’s standing to commence the action, plaintiff was required to prove prima facie that it had standing in addition to proving prima facie the other elements of its action (to wit, the mortgage, the unpaid note, and defendant’s evidence of default).  To establish prima facie that plaintiff had standing, plaintiff had to demonstrate that it was the holder or assignee of the underlying note when the action is commenced by showing either a written assignment of or physical delivery of the note.

Here, plaintiff failed to establish prima facie that it had either a written assignment or physical delivery of the note.  Plaintiff submitted the affidavit of the assistant secretary of Subsequent Assignee who stated “pursuant to the business records of” plaintiff, plaintiff had physical possession of the note when it commenced the action.  But the assistant secretary of Subsequent Assignee failed to attest that she was personally familiar with the record-keeping practices and procedures of plaintiff.  So the assistant secretary’s assertions based on those records were inadmissible.

Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to cure the omission by submitting in reply the affidavit of its vice president, which could not be considered in reply.   And although plaintiff’s motion papers showed that MERS as nominee had assigned the note and mortgage to plaintiff before the action was commenced, plaintiff failed to establish the note had been delivered to MERS before MERS assigned it to plaintiff.   So because plaintiff failed to meet its prima facie burden, Supreme Court should have denied it summary judgment without regard to the sufficiency of defendant’s opposition papers.

But Supreme Court properly denied defendant’s cross motion for leave to amend his answer to assert counterclaims because the counterclaims were either patently devoid of merit or their belated addition would have prejudiced the plaintiff.  Defendant failed to offer a reasonable excuse for his nearly five-year delay in seeking to add them.

Aurora Loan Services, LLC v. Baritz, 2016 NY Slip Op 07154 (Nov. 2, 2016) http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_07154.htm.

Plaintiff’s motion made midtrial to challenge the sufficiency of defendant’s expert disclosure was properly denied as untimely.  Defendant’s expert disclosure was made timely and the alleged deficiency was apparent upon receipt.

Plaintiff’s decedent entered defendant hospital with symptoms of pneumonia and died early the next morning after being admitted to an area of the hospital that lacked continuous monitoring of patients’ vital signs. The autopsy report identified the cause of death as bronchopneumonia complicated by diabetes.  Decedent’s mother sued for wrongful death and for conscious pain and suffering.

Defendant had timely served CPLR 3101 (d) expert disclosure which stated without more that the expert would testify “on the issue of causation” and “as to the possible causes of the decedent’s injuries and contributing factors.”  Upon receipt of the disclosure, plaintiff had objected solely on the ground that the statement did not provide the dates of the expert’s medical residency, which objection defendant had cured.

At trial, the hospital treating physician testified that decedent’s death was caused in part by pneumonia, but on cross examination stated that he believed decedent instead died from acute cardiac arrhythmia. Plaintiff’s expert also testified that decedent’s death was caused in part by pneumonia, but acknowledged on cross examination that a cardiac event was a possible cause of death.

Immediately before defendant’s expert took the stand, and without requesting an adjournment, plaintiff moved to preclude defendant’s expert from giving any testimony regarding any possible causes of the decedent’s death on the grounds that defendant’s expert disclosure statement did not include “any reasonable detail whatsoever” as to the possible causes of decedent’s death.  The trial court denied the application as untimely. Defendant’s expert then testified that he disagreed with plaintiff’s expert and the autopsy report regarding the cause of death, that decedent’s vital signs instead showed no indication of worsening respiration, that decedent’s other health issues increased his risk for cardiac problems, and that the cause of death was sudden, lethal cardiac arrhythmia.

The jury found defendant liable for failing to place decedent in an area of the hospital with continuous monitoring and awarded plaintiff damages for wrongful death but awarded zero for conscious pain and suffering.  Plaintiff moved under CPLR 4404(a) to strike all testimony about cardiac arrhythmia as the cause of death and to set aside the $0 award for conscious pain and suffering, arguing that the expert disclosure statement failed to include the theory that decedent died of cardiac arrhythmia and so the disclosure was deficient. The trial court again denied the motion as “untimely made at the time of trial.”

The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that plaintiff failed to timely object to the lack of specificity in the expert disclosure statement and that plaintiff was not justified in assuming that the defense expert’s testimony would agree with the autopsy report’s conclusion. The Appellate Division held that where plaintiff’s own proof acknowledged that sudden cardiac arrhythmia was a possibility based on decedent’s medical history and condition, and where evidence in the record supported this theory, the testimony need not be stricken as an unfair surprise. One justice dissented and granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.

Noting that trial courts possess broad discretion in the supervision of expert disclosure, the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding as a matter of law that there was no abuse of discretion as a matter of law: assuming defendant’s disclosure was deficient, the deficiency was readily apparent upon plaintiff’s receipt of the disclosure and no analogy could be made between the issue here of insufficiency and those cases where a party’s disclosure was misleading or where the trial testimony was inconsistent with the disclosure.  The trial court’s ruling did not endorse the sufficiency of the statement but instead addressed the motion’s timeliness. The lower courts were entitled to determine that the time to challenge the statement’s content had passed because the basis of the objection was readily apparent from the face of the disclosure statement and could have been raised and potentially cured before trial.

Lastly, the Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s claim that the testimony regarding cardiac arrhythmia should have been excluded as speculative, because there was ample evidence in the record on which to premise cardiac arrhythmia.

Rivera v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., 2016 NY Slip Op 06854 (Court of Appeals Oct. 20, 2016)

http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_06854.htm