As you likely know, Judge Robert Bork filed a New York personal injury lawsuit last week in federal court here. Due to his prior advocacy for tort reform, he has been lampooned, mocked and otherwise pilloried for having engaged in excessive claims over what appears to be a routine trip-and-fall action at the Yale Club.
But this post is not about mockery or political criticism. The issue today is, given the error-riddled Complaint that has contributed to the scorn, what should he do next? Since this is, after all, the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, I figure I’m the guy to take a shot at this.
So here are the top 10 things Judge Bork should consider:
10. Voluntarily dismiss the federal court complaint, as of right, before the Yale Club answers (FRCP 41). Once defendant answers, you need permission to dismiss and they may not be so quick to agree without exacting something from you.
9. Re-start in New York State Supreme Court. State court actions are cheaper because we don’t have expert depositions and don’t generally depose treating physicians. (In this case, expect for each side one or two doctors depending on your actual ailments, and a buildings inspector for code violations.) If the expense of litigation has been one of your court reform mantras, this is a good excuse to re-start here, since there are fewer legal hours and less cold, hard cash involved. Since you will be financially accountable for the disbursements (if a standard retainer agreement were entered into), this is particularly important for you as your attorneys would be repaid the money they laid out for you from the gross recovery. (With a local defendant, they may not be able to remove back to federal court, notwithstanding diversity.)
8. Dump the punitive damages claim. You know better than that. (And, by the way, it is not a separate cause of action, as your attorneys framed it.)
7. Dump the claim for attorneys fees. They are not allowed in New York.
6. Dump the claim for pre-judgment interest. It is not allowed in New York.
5. Make sure the new complaint explicitly alleges the Yale Club owns the premises. You didn’t do it the first time. If they are going to deny it, you want to know now.
4. Make sure the new complaint explicitly alleges the Yale Club controls and operates the premises. You failed to do this the first time. If the Yale Club contracted operations to a 3rd party, or allowed the New Criterion magazine as a sponsor to undertake these activities, you want to know now. Make sure each fact is separately pleaded so you know exactly what position the Yale Club is taking with respect to who operated and controlled this event and this room when they answer the Complaint with admissions and denials.
3. Make sure the new complaint specifically claims the New Criterion did not operate or control this event in any way, or sue them if you think they did. This is important since you alleged they were the “host.” (In paragraph 7, you called both Yale and New Criterion the “host.”) Whatever you do, just don’t leave this vague as you did the first time. It may not be the Yale Club that did the actual set-up for the dais. Do you want to wait for the statute of limitations to expire only to see the Yale Club point at the empty chair?
2. Do not make a claim for future lost speaking fees, unless they are huge. If you do, your prior writings and statements on tort reform may become relevant to show that your stock as a speaker to conservative groups has been devalued as a result of the appearance of hypocrisy in filing a suit with some meritless claims thrown in to the mix. The man-on-the-street may well remember you as a SCOTUS nominee, but they surely don’t know of what you have written. You don’t want them to know either, because some of the claims in your federal complaint can’t be justified under any legal theory. And that makes you, as a former big-shot judge, look bad. And you are not in a position to simply blame your lawyers for having made so many errors.
1. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association has over 4,500 lawyers. Hire someone that knows what they are doing with this area of law, not a white collar criminal defense or securities lawyer that can’t draft a simple trip and fall complaint. And remember also that you don’t need a BigLaw “litigator” that probably hasn’t tried a case in years. And you do need someone that knows how to move a case efficiently.
BigLaw doesn’t mean best law.
Addendum 6/29/07 — Bork Amends Lawsuit, Keeps Claim for Over $1,000,000 Plus Punitive Damages
(Eric Turkewitz is a personal injury attorney in New York)