In July, 2007, I won an arbitration award of $99,500.00 for my clients Ivan and Sylvia. This was a negligence case but it had nothing to do with personal injury. When attorneys use the word “negligence,” it is almost always used in the context of seeking compensation for personal injuries. But Ivan and Sylvia’s case had to do with property damage, namely the complete loss of their home due to a fire that was caused by their “negligent” neighbor.
During the summer of 2000, a fire started in the adjoining house that was attached to my clients’ house. Unfortunately, the fire spread to my clients’ house and both houses were burned down. The official fire report from the Fire Department of New York City stated that the fire originated in the adjoining house and then spread to my clients’ house.
The fire completely destroyed my clients’ house. Since they did not have the money to completely rebuild the house, they had to sell it for “salvage value.” In this case, my clients’ completely burned down house sold for only $51,000.00 (as opposed to its fair market value of over $150,000.00).
My clients also did not receive any monies from their insurance company because they had failed to make the payments! So let this be a reminder to every person to always keep your insurance payments current, whether it be for your home, car, etc.
I filed a lawsuit against the insurance company that insured their neighbor’s house. But since the entire insurance business seems to be a scam in this country, the insurance company refused to pay my clients for the loss of their house, even though the official fire report clearly indicated that the fire had originated in the neighbor’s house. This is because the insurance company argued that the fire had been started by a tenant and not by the homeowners themselves.
Keep in mind that there is a lot of case law in New York that states that a homeowner is not responsible for the negligent actions of a tenant. But I knew that the insurance company’s argument was completely bogus simply because the “tenant” that the insurance company was claiming had started the fire was none other than the adult son of the homeowner!
However, the insurance company continued to use this argument in refusing to reimburse my clients for their tremendous loss. This is just 1 of the many examples of why there is so much litigation in our society and so much dissatisfaction with both the legal system and the insurance industry.
My clients and I proceeded to what is called “high – low arbitration.” The arbitrator issued a decision that was 100% in my clients’ favor. He even awarded an additional $7,000.00 to Ivan and $2,500.00 to Sylvia for the loss of their personal items.
The arbitrator had to deduct from the final award the $51,000.00 that my clients received in “salvage value” for having sold their burned out house. Once that was done, the final award amount was $99,500.00.
My clients were very happy with the outcome. I thought that I prepared them well for the arbitration and I am also happy that the arbitrator (i.e., judge) did not give any weight to the insurance company’s ridiculous arguments.
In a divorce case, as with all civil cases, all the litigants get an opportunity to participate in process called discovery. This process is supposed to be an opportunity for a free-flowing exchange of information between the lawyers. The reason that we have the discovery process is because the Courts greatly frown upon the element of surprise. In other words, the process of discovery is meant to do away with the element of surprise during a trial (in the event that a case does not settle). A litigant cannot just take out a piece of evidence at trial, after the process of discovery has been over and without having disclosed it to the other side, and think that he/she can use it at trial. Our system does not work this way.
As for this legal malpractice case, my client’s former law firm failed to comply with the Judge’s Order after the process of discovery had been completed. When the Judge realized what had happened, she dismissed the divorce case and ordered that the plaintiff (my client) start the entire case over from the very beginning!