Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Police "Special Duty" Created

In Valdez v. City of New York, 2011 NY Slip Op 07252, the facts are as follows: in 1996, the plaintiff’s ex-boyfriend called her and threatened to kill her; thereafter, she called the police and informed them of this threat, and also informed them that for her safety she left her apartment with her children and were heading to a family member’s house; in response, a police officer told her to return to her apartment and that the ex-boyfriend would be arrested immediately (though he never ended up being arrested at that time); she then went back to her apartment, and the night went by without incident; the following night, while leaving her apartment to take out garbage, the ex-boyfriend, emerged and shot her several times, resulting in serious personal injuries.

The Plaintiff brought a negligence action against the City of New York, alleging the following: that the City had undertaken a “special relationship” with her that created a duty of care; that the City was negligent in failing to arrest the ex-boyfriend prior to the attack; and that the City’s negligence was a proximate cause of the shooting. 

The matter went to trial, where a jury awarded $9.93 million dollars against the City, finding the ex-boyfriend and the City to be both 50% at fault in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.  However, on appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the verdict, and now the Court of Appeals has affirmed the reversal.  The Court held the following: “[the phone call between the plaintiff and the police officer] did not create a special relationship.  It was not reasonable for her to conclude, based on nothing more than the officer’s statement that the police were going to arrest [the ex-boyfriend] immediately, that she could relax her vigilance indefinitely, a belief that apparently impelled her to exit her apartment some 28 hours later without further contact with the police.”  Also, the Court noted, among other things, that she did not make a follow up call to the police after the threat to confirm that he was arrested, which was her common practice in the past whenever her and her ex-boyfriend had disputes.

Salvatore R. Marino, Esq.