Friday, November 16, 2012

Riss v. City of New York case brief

Riss v. City of New York case summary
22 N.Y. 2d (1968)

-Riss sued the City of New York for negligence alleging that the police failed to provide her with protection.
-She was terrorized for months by an old boyfriend who had threatened to kill or maim her.
-Later she received a phone call saying it was her last chance.
-The following day a thug that was hired by the ex-boyfriend threw lye in her face which resulted in blindness in one eye, and loss of a portion of vision in the other eye, as well as permanent face scarring.
-Riss had asked for police protection many times.

-The trial court dismissed her complaint and the appeals court affirmed.


-Is a municipality liable for failure to provide special police protection to a member of the public who was repeatedly threatened with personal harm and eventually suffered injuries due to lack of protection?


-A municipality might be subject to liability regarding:

1.  Activities that displace or supplement traditionally private enterprises like rapid transit systems, hospitals, and places of public assembly
2.  Activities that provide services and facilities for the use of the public like highways, public buildings, etc.

Reasoning: The above services are for the general benefit of the public. 
-This case involves governmental protection services from external hazards (such as controlling the activities of criminal wrongdoers).
-If tort liability was permitted for those who seek police protection based on specific hazards, then this would cause a determination as to how the limited resources of the community should be allocated and without predictable limits
It should be left up to the legislature to determine how to use the resources and the scope of public responsibility
Imposing liability in this case would not sure the problem of crime and it would bankrupt the city

The crushing liability that the majority thinks this will impose on the city is not true:
astronomical financial burden would not exist—no municipality has ever gone bankrupt because it has had to respond in damages
there is an argument that the city will be sued for everything, but there are things like fault, proximate cause and foreseeability that limit liability
-Government immunity has been removed form other areas, and this has not led to disaster
-Also, the judicial interference argument is flawed, because it ignores the fact that courts indirectly review the administrative activity of states and municipalities in every tort case brought against the government.
-In municipal negligence cases, the courts are accomplishing 2 things
1.  Applying the principle of vicarious liability to government activity
2.  Presenting government officials with two alternatives in cases where insufficient allocation of public funds has resulted in injury

-Officials can either improve public administration or accept the cost of paying damages to injured people

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