In NY, a Business is Responsible for EVERYTHING

By: Michael Seinberg

Picture1On October 30, 2011, Manhattan real estate broker, Marion Hedges, was the victim of shopping cart assault. She was standing in front of a Costco located at the East River Plaza in Manhattan. The cart was thrown by two youths from a walkway that was four stories above. The cart belonged to a Target store that was part of the plaza and the boys had been ejected from a Bob’s Discount Furniture store in the plaza for being unruly.

In true New York fashion, Hedges and her attorney, Carmine Rubino, sued Costco, Bob’s, Target and the plaza. They claim Bob’s should have done something after ejecting the boys, Costco should have been more diligent since there had been past complaints about things being thrown from the walkway, and the plaza should have done more (what, exactly, is unclear). And of course, Target was named for not keeping better track of their carts.

If this suit isn’t absurd enough so far, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings has ruled that the suit can move ahead as there are too many questions that she feels are not being answered by the various defendants. “The business proprietor’s duty to provide a safe environment for members of the public whom the business invites into its stores extends to customers’ means of egress and ingress,” she said.

As for the two young miscreants, they were caught, tried in family court, and sentenced to 6 months in a juvenile residential facility. According to the judge, “at minimum, the complaint raises a question whether it was reasonably foreseeable to Bob’s Discount Furniture that expelling the troublesome boys from the store to cause disruption outside the store, without any further action to address their misbehavior, would result in injury to persons or property outside,” she said. So what, they should have held their hands and walked them home (and potentially subjected themselves to unlawful imprisonment and harassment charges)?

It seems in this case, the judge is overstepping to an extraordinary degree. The fact that Hedges and her attorney have gone after every deep pocket involved,  but have not filed suit against the assailants or their families, speaks volumes. This lawsuit and the many others like it in New York are an indictment of our state’s imbalanced civil justice system. In this case, it is important to remember that New York is one of only two states in the nation where property owners face liability for all entrants to their property, event flagrant trespassers.

As long as we keep laws on the books that incentivize litigation, we will all be paying for it. New York taxpayers currently pay on average over $1 billion each year for lawsuits against local governments, plus over $100 million annually to subsidize insurance for medical lawsuits. And businesses respond by avoiding New York like the plague, taking jobs and tax dollars with them. Is it any wonder New York ranks highest in the nation for liability risk, and worst in the nation for business climate? It seems the only industry doing well these days is the lawsuit business.

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