Eastern District Awash in Sandy Insurance Cases

, New York Law Journal

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Dr. Harold Parnes in the room of his Sheepshead Bay office where his X-ray machine once stood. The office was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Dr. Harold Parnes in the room of his Sheepshead Bay office where his X-ray machine once stood. The office was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

In the state courts of New York City and Long Island, there has not been "a significant number of Sandy-related cases," said First Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks (See Profile).

"The storm and its aftermath has undoubtedly been a contributing factor in some of the cases routinely brought in the courts such as foreclosure, landlord-tenant, consumer debt and child support cases, but we have not yet seen a large number of Sandy cases," he said.

In the months after the storm, the state court system set up dedicated Sandy parts in hard-hit counties including Richmond, Brooklyn and Queens. But the parts have gotten just a handful of cases each, if any, and administrative judges aren't sure why.

"We really have been underwhelmed," said Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. "We have one case for all of Brooklyn and it involves property damage to a private home in Bergen Beach."

In Richmond County, Administrative Judge Judith McMahon (See Profile) has seen just three Sandy-related cases. In all three, plaintiffs are suing their home or flood insurers over underpayments. One has since been removed to federal court.

McMahon said she hopes the lack of cases means people are getting their issues resolved outside of court. "People have called and asked, 'Do you really have a Sandy part?' And the answer is yes, we are open, and we're willing to have as much business as possible," she said.

'One Way or Another'

Back in Brooklyn, about 250 attorneys trekked and trudged through cold, snowy weather on Feb. 5 to the Eastern District's ceremonial courtroom from as far away as Louisiana to discuss how to handle the cases.

Prior to the proceedings, the magistrate judges sought input from the attorneys on potential grouping or streamlining. Yet by and large, attorneys for both the plaintiffs and defense urged against grouping, saying the cases were too individual.

Jerry Nielsen of Nielsen Carter & Treas in Metairie, La., a defense side firm representing carriers issuing flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, said after Hurricane Katrina, some possible groupings of cases were attempted without success.

The ensuing case-by-case approach was a "massive amount of work, but it got done."

Tracey Rannals Bryan of Gauthier Houghtaling & Williams, a Metairie La., firm representing about 2,000 plaintiffs in state and federal actions in New York and New Jersey, also said cases were too specific to be handled together.

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