Stupidity, Storms and Lawsuits

By: Michael Seinberg

Unfortunately, the surge of lawsuits stemming from superstorm Sandy is just getting started.  And it’s becoming clear that the legal concept of force majeure, also known as “acts of God,” which hasn’t stopped lawyers in the past, certainly won’t slow them down now. Ironically, this particular suit centers around homeowners whose property was not damaged by the storm.

A New Jersey couple, Harvey and Phyllis Karan, own a $1.7 million home along the ocean on Long Beach Island. A couple of years ago, the federal government spent $25 million to create a series of large sand dunes along that same 1.1 mile stretch of beach in order to protect the homeowners there. With me so far?

So are all these beach dwellers now safer and happier? Nope. The Karans sued after the local government had to use eminent domain to seize enough beachfront to create the dunes. The resulting 22 foot dunes reduced the Karan’s property value by $500,000 (they claimed) because it diminished their ocean view. So they convinced a jury that they’d been grievously harmed and said jury (likely their neighbors) awarded them $375,000.

So now Sandy swings on by, laying waste to a good portion of the Jersey Shore – but the Karans and their neighbors are absolutely fine, thanks to that highly offensive sand dune, no less. But do they offer up thanks, pull the suit and go away? No sir! While thousands of other people are homeless or faced with huge bills to rebuild, the Karans’ attorney says the storm changes nothing and the suit, which now sits in state Supreme Court, will move forward.

If these money grubbers win this suit, then the precedent will do nothing but continue to strain and damage an already fragile state economy and clog an overworked court system. Were I sitting on the bench, I would toss the case, and then send in a bulldozer to remove the dunes from in front of the Karans’ home. I also might slip the dozer driver an extra $20 to accidently take a chunk out of their ego palace.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Here’s a decent use for federal money that actually worked as designed and all these people and their lawyer can do is complain about perceived property values. If I was a potential buyer and saw that the dunes has saved the home from Sandy, I’d pay more, knowing the house was that much safer. But then my brain runs on logic, not greed.

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