November 1st, 2012

New York Suspends Statutes of Limitations in Wake of Hurricane Sandy (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visiting the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel

I was wondering when this would happen, but it finally has. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an Executive Order suspending the statute of limitations in a wide variety of cases, both civil and criminal. The term of the suspension is indefinite. This affects the time to bring a suit, the time to file an appeal, and the time to bring criminal prosecutions. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has acted also, extending the time to file a notice of appeal to some litigants.

The reasons should be obvious, but if you don’t live in New York, you might not appreciate what is going on. The courts in the city have fluctuated between closed and dysfunctional. Lawyers, staff and court personnel can’t reach offices as subway tunnels between the boroughs are still underwater, and buses and bridges are packed to the rafters. Many remain without power, or have become homeless as a result of the devastation.

A similar order was issued by Gov. George Pataki after the September 11 attack, for a period of 58 days.

New York, and our cousins in New Jersey, will get through the mess, though the damage to some families will be sadly permanent.

In the interim, the Governor has done the right thing to insure that artificially created time periods don’t unnecessarily injury the legal rights of others.

Pending cases are expected to be in disarray for awhile as the city gets back on its feet and gets its systems up and running, so that trials can be rescheduled.

Update 11/2/12 – The New York Law Journal has a story out today on the court disruptions, and lawyer groups mobilizing to assist victims. It also notes, among other things, that the Office of Court Administration, which is downtown, is closed due to flooding.

And there is this quote from New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that I thought was worth repeating, given the comparison to September 11:

“You don’t have the tremendous loss of life that you had on 9/11, but in some ways the affected area is much larger,” Lippman said. “In 9/11, the immediate ‘frozen zone’ was identifiable. But here you have it all across the metropolitan area. You have this total failure of transportation, in electricity, in so many different areas that it is traumatic in a different way. The loss of life was so overwhelming on 9/11 and the act was so heinous that it is very different than an act of nature. But I think both are traumatic in their own ways.”


March 9th, 2012

Cuomo Attacks (Part of) No-Fault Fraud — An open letter to the Governor

Dear Gov. Cuomo:

First, let me tip my hat to you in going after No-Fault fraud, as you announced yesterday.  Your decision to shut down medical mills and strip the licenses of deceptive doctors that churn phony No-Fault claims is admirable. I know this follows on the dozens of arrests made last week by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan for this type of conduct, coming from largely Russian-born individuals living in Brighton Beach.

But — and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? — I think you have only addressed half the problem. And with No-Fault fraud now on your plate, I think I speak for many when I ask that you authorize a more comprehensive investigation.

For the problem of No-Fault fraud stems not only from doctors doing phony billing, but comes also from sham medical exams by insurance companies to deny benefits.

You see, in order to get No-Fault benefits, an injured person must be examined by a so-called “independent” doctor that is hired by the insurance company responsible for paying, and treatment authorized. But there are way too many accident victims who are denied those benefits after quickie 5-minute exams. In order to appreciate why that would happen, one only needs to understand a fundamental conflict of interest: The more denials a doctor issues, the more sought-after s/he is by the insurance companies for future exams. If you are the insurance company and knew Dr. Smith denied coverage 30% of the time and Dr. Jones denied it 90% of the time, wouldn’t you want to keep sending claimants to the one that saves you money?

New Yorkers surrendered certain rights with the birth of the No-Fault laws. We can no longer bring actions unless we have suffered a “serious injury.” In exchange, we are supposed to get guaranteed medical/economic benefits up to $50,000 in exchange for the premiums that we pay.

But what happens with this kind of insurance fraud? The insurance company benefits because many lawsuits can’t be brought and then a second time by stopping the benefits the claimants were supposed to receive.

Investigation of this fraud should be relatively simple, as you know from being our former Attorney General. If a doctor is seeing 10 patients in an hour for No-Fault exams, and churning out cookie-cutter denials, you can bet your last dollar that doctor isn’t doing it with the best interests of the patients in mind.

So I applaud your efforts to go after No-Fault fraud from those doctors running medical mills and over-billing. And if there are some attorneys in cahoots with the medical providers, go get them too.

But please don’t leave the legitimate auto accident victims, with legitimate injuries, out in the cold because of fraud being perpetrated from the insurance company end of things.

Respectfully submitted,

Eric Turkewitz