New York City personal injury attorneys know that in court, just as in life, there is a time and a place for everything.
Recently, the New York Court of Appeals ruled a trial court erroneously placed an undue burden on a personal injury case plaintiff by ordering him to produce a series of medical records for defense review prior to defense medical examinations.
This was a case involving alleged negligent lead paint exposure. The plaintiff in Hamilton v. Miller filed the lawsuit alleging owners of rental units where he lived as a child were responsible for his exposure to lead-based paint, and that he suffered numerous personal injuries as a result. Specifically, he asserted 35 separate and lifelong injuries that included physical, neurological and psychological problems stemming from the exposure.
In 2001, the New York Court of Appeals issued a ruling that made it easier for renters whose children are victims of lead-based paint poisoning to sue landlords for compensation. The unanimous decision in Chapman vs. Silber reversed a previous trend in which landlords could only be held liable if the tenant could show the defendant had actual knowledge of the existence of the substance in the apartment.
However, there are some exceptions, namely for New York City landlords of multiple-dwelling units. The threshold for landlords of one- and two-family residences in New York City is the same as for across the state. The ruling also did not require property owners to test their units for the presence of lead.
There is, though, the requirement, by Local Law 1 of 1982 in New York City mandating multiple-dwelling property owners to remove or safely and permanently cover any paint containing lead in a home where a child under the age of 7 lives. Additionally, a 1996 Court of Appeals ruling that applied this statute indicated the presence of peeling paint in units with small children was sufficient enough to provide constructive notice that the youth could be at-risk.
Since these decisions, more and more lawsuits have been filed, particularly as those who were children at the time of these rulings have begun to come of age.
Many landlords are aggressively fighting back.
In the Hamilton case, the defendant served the plaintiff with multiple notices of medical examination, along with requests for copies of any reports by doctors who may have treated the patient prior to those exams.
The plaintiff responded with disclosure of some educational and medical records showing he suffered from lead poisoning as a young child, and that there were academic consequences resulting. However, those records failed to address each of the injuries he laid out in his initial complaint, and didn’t causally relate the noted academic issues to lead poisoning.
The defense filed a motion to compel, ordering the plaintiff to comply with the earlier request and produce reports detailing his diagnosis and causal relation to the paint. Absent this, the defense argued, they would incur substantial expense in hiring numerous medical professionals to examine the plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s lawyer responded with a protection order, asserting the defendants’ request was premature. The state supreme court sided with the defense, and the Appellate Division affirmed, though the decision was split.
However, the New York State Court of Appeals reversed, siding with the plaintiff’s assertion that he was only required to produce currently-existing documents. He was not, the justices ruled, required to create medical evidence of each injury prior to the medical examination phase. If the court had required this, it would have made it prohibitively expensive for plaintiffs to bring personal injury lawsuits in the future.
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Hamilton v. Miller, June 12, 2014, New York Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Stanczyk v. City of New York, et al. – Appeals Court Upholds District Ruling, June 21, 2014, New York City Injury Lawyer Blog