File This Under “You Can’t Fight City Hall”

One of the banes of representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases against The City of New York is the seemingly endless ability of the City to delay the prosecution of these cases by simply ignoring with impunity court-ordered directives and deadlines to provide disclosure of records and to produce witnesses for depositions.

Most of the time, when a conference is held and the City has not complied with an earlier court order, the City is just given more time to respond. Rarely is the City penalized for its delay and noncompliance. (This is why our office, whenever possible, commences personal injury/medical malpractice actions against the City or its agencies in Federal Court). So when a Supreme Court Justice who does not tolerate the City’s dilatory tactics is reassigned to non-city cases, suspicion abounds.

Until the beginning of this October, Justice Paul A. Victor of the Supreme Court, Bronx County, had, for more than three years, been the sole Justice responsible for sending city cases for trial in the Bronx. Justice Victor has issued several decisions either sanctioning the city for not complying with discovery directives or demanding more detailed affidavits when city officials could not locate records. The sanctions include striking the City’s answer in the law suit, which effectively meant that the City became liable as a matter of law for the plaintiff’s injuries and the only matter to be determined is the amount of damages to be awarded. Justice Victor’s decisions in these cases are cogently written and reveal that the City had been persistent in failing to comply with court orders leaving the Court little choice but to impose sanctions.

It also seems likely that the number of cases in which Justice Victor actually imposed sanctions represent but a small percentage of the cases in which the City is accused of engaging in dilatory tactics.

However, as of October 8 of this year Justice Victor was reassigned by the Bronx Administrative Justice to handle preliminary conferences in non-city tort cases. (This was about one week after his then most recent decision imposing sanctions. Subsequently, on October 25, the New York Law Journal reported another decision in a case assigned to Justice Victor before his reassignment wherein he imposed sanctions against both the plaintiff and the City.) The Bronx Bar Association blasted giving new duties to Justice Victor as ‘a quid pro quo’ between the Office of Court Administration and the city ‘to maintain the status quo’.

In a letter, dated September 20, two Bronx bar officials complained to Bronx Administrative Justice Barry Salman that the reassignment can only be viewed ‘as punitive for [Justice Victor’s] having the temerity to issue well reasoned, well written orders striking the City’s answers and imposing sanctions.’ The chief of the tort division in the Corporation Counsel’s office said in a written statement it is ‘unfortunate’ that the bar group had ‘linked’ Justice Victor’s reassignment to the latest of a series of meetings with Bronx Administrative Justice Barry Salmon to devise ways of speeding the handling tort cases against the city.” Justice Salman said Justice Victor’s decisions had nothing to do with his decision to reassign Justice Victor.

City cases make up 24 percent of the tort caseload awaiting trial in the Bronx, according to court statistics as of earlier this year. Of 6,128 trial-ready tort cases in the Bronx, 1,448 (24%) are against New York City. On average, it takes about 30 months for a case to be tried once all pretrial work has been finished. According to court system guidelines, the longest a case should wait before being called for trial is 15 months. Time will tell whether the purported changes in the way City cases are handled in the Bronx are effective.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have been getting results for satisfied clients for 50 years spanning 3 generations. With offices in New York City and on Long Island, Levine & Slavit represents accident victims in cases in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties, as well as other venues in the region. To learn more, contact our office or watch our videos.

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