October 21st, 2015

The Kool-Aid Drinking Lawyer

Helene Blank

Helene Blank

Even though Helene Blank has tried cases for both defendants and plaintiffs, and has been doing so since 1979 in roughly 130+ trials, and lectures widely, she is still stunned by what she sees.

She last appeared here in a good rant about bad faith and insurance companies.

She guest blogs today on lawyers that have surrendered their objectivity, and with it their ability to actually assist their clients…


Kool-Aid drinkers to a plaintiff’s lawyer are defendants’ lawyers who, no matter how stark the evidence that the plaintiff is seriously injured, refuses to believe it and does everything they can to make sure your client isn’t properly compensated for their injuries. The insurance company must be protected from really hurt people at all costs.

I always thought the true Kool-Aid drinker was really a mythological beast not any more real than Bigfoot, Yeti or a werewolf. That was until last week.

I ran into a defense lawyer I hadn’t seen since we tried a damages only case of a client of mine who was irreparably and horribly injured from the accident caused by her client. This poor, sad soul developed what is known as RSD or CRPS – which stands for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome — the people who have the true misfortune of getting this call it CRAPS — ’cause that’s what your life becomes, crap.

This syndrome happens to an unlucky person after an injury, their brain just goes haywire – and the affected limb is in constant unending pain. You become hypersensitive. You can’t be touched, you can barely wear clothes, you can’t use the limb, and it atrophies or wastes away.

This poor soul had even worse misfortune when the CRPS jumped from his left arm to his right leg — a not unknown phenomenon for these poor people.

His life as he knew it was ruined. He couldn’t sleep in a bed, be touched by another human, not his wife, not his children. He had a pain pump inserted into his spine in the hopes of gaining some relief.

He routinely begged his doctor to cut off his arm. If only it were that simple and such a barbaric act would cure him. Too bad, but it wouldn’t.

He was unable to really walk and he couldn’t use the affect arm to do much of anything.

The defense had him examined twice by a wonderfully credentialed doctor from one of the best hospitals in the world – the Hospital for Special Surgery. After each exam, this doctor reported that it was his opinion that my client did indeed suffer from RSD/CRPS.

But they never produced that doctor for the trial.

Instead, they hired for trial what plaintiffs’ lawyers in gentle circles call “a witness for hire” to testify that my client did not suffer from this. A witness who spends her career traveling the country testifying against injured victims who suffer from this. This doctor never once examined my client and completely discounted the defense’s medical exams. But okay –I know that’s what defense lawyers do. It’s their job to try and get the best possible settlement for their client.

I understand that, really I do. I was once one of them. But my encounter with this adversary last week so saddened me that it’s hard to get out of my mind.

After we exchanged niceties, she actually said to me:  your client, he’s out somewhere partying with all that money he got and he has finally taken that bandage off his arm. A “bandage” that he wore constantly to protect himself from human touch which he found excruciating.

I was shocked. Truly, absolutely shocked. This seemingly intelligent woman, who had all the truth in front of her during the trial, really drank the Kool-Aid. She just simply refused to believe that this poor man was so badly hurt.

I answered that she must be kidding. Did she really truly believe he was a fraud?

She actually said yes, and said she regretted not doing surveillance on my client. I told her that so did I, if for no other reason than I could have used the footage against her client because all she would have seen was what she saw in court. A beaten, hurt human being whose life was destroyed.

Her bizarre response to that was this made her feel better. It all made me feel so sad for this lawyer whose humanity was somehow lost along her way. It made me realize why I stopped being a defense lawyer a long time ago. I never was going to lose my humanity for any insurance company.


April 8th, 2014

New York Central Mutual Slammed in Bad Faith (And What it means for you)

Helene Blank

Helene Blank

Her name is Helene Blank and she last appeared on this page ripping into the City’s Corporation Counsel for his incredible hypocrisy in calling our courts inefficient.

She isn’t just a top trial lawyer here in New York, and a frequent lecturer to others. No, she is also something else. She’s pissed. Again.

And she’s got a damn good reason…so without further ado, Helene Blank as guest blogger…


It’s a tale of corporate greed, in all its ugly manifestations, which starts with grave human suffering. And thanks to a federal court decision last week, we share it today in all that ugliness.

We turn the clock back to November 11, 2000, in the Town of Ulysses, New York, when Peggy Horton, a married mother of three and licensed registered practical nurse, was struck by Ralph Wade when he failed to yield at a stop sign.

No one disputes that Wade caused the collision (not an accident). What he did was unfortunate. But what his insurance companies did next to the two of them for almost a decade – and what they almost got away with and could get away with today — is inconceivable. Yet it continues to happen all the time.

Horton underwent six separate surgeries to correct the damage done to her back — starting with a fusion of two spinal levels and progressing to the insertion of hardware due to instability, incisional hernias, hardware removal and additional fusion.

She never returned to work as a nurse. She suffered from depression and post traumatic stress. Even the doctors hired by the insurance company agreed, finding that she suffered from what is known as failed back syndrome and that she would have nothing but a life of pain to look forward to.

Eleven months after the collision, Horton sued Wade.

Wade was insured by New York Central Mutual for $500,000.00. In addition, he had an umbrella policy with his homeowners insurance, Quincy Mutual, for another million. This is where the ugliness comes in.

Despite the fact that both insurers were immediately notified of this lawsuit, the primary insurer (New York Central Mutual) withheld the existence of the excess million for years. Horton, unaware of the extra million, had agreed to accept the 500K in settlement, perhaps recognizing that a personal judgment against Wade would be useless, under the well-known legal theory that you can’t get blood from a stone.

For her massive injuries and inability to work, New York Central offered the piddling sum of $75K.

The irony is that if it hadn’t been for its greed in refusing to offer the primary $500K when it had multiple opportunities, New York Central would have gotten away with hiding the existence of the excess policy. Instead, because of its greed, New York Central not only has to pay its primary policy of $500K, but also has to pay the excess million excess held by Qunicy (plus interest).

The long, sad and shocking  story only came to light when the excess/umbrella carrier brought a law suit in bad faith, against New York Central Mutual in the Northern District of New York. The suit was based on New York Central’s apparent failure to cheat this plaintiff in a timely fashion and settle quickly before the excess was revealed, resulting in it being on the hook for the late-revealed excess million.  See: Qunicy Mututal v.New York Central Mutual

Quincy Mutual showed that, at multiple times, the plaintiff had agreed to accept the $500K in final settlement of her action because at that time, despite being legally entitled to the knowledge of all available insurance — that knowledge was withheld from her lawyers. New York Central fouled up yet again, apparently, as after the excess million was finally revealed, she still gave them a short time to meet the 500K demand.

But this isn’t about the good faith of a plaintiff keeping the settlement door open. It’s about the greed of the insurance company. Perhaps the insurance carrier thought that, if the litigation was delayed long enough and Horton suffered more due to her inability to work, it could strike a better deal.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Peebles found New York Central had acted in “gross disregard” of the excess carrier’s interest when it stuck to its $75K settlement offer and lost opportunities to settle with Horton.

The real outrage for all consumers is that you could not open up a settlement, which is induced by the insurance company, if you learned later that there was in fact more coverage.

Wade — the negligent driver that started it all —  was put to the expense and worry for years that his personal assets might be in jeopardy because all the experts agreed that Horton’s losses well exceeded his available coverage. He was forced to hire private counsel to protect him because his insurance companies were not keeping their part of the contracts that he had bought and paid for.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant lost here. But the insurance companies did not. They kept their money for years longer than they ever should have been allowed to, dragging the parties through the court system for almost a decade before they resolved this matter.

New York Central Mutual continued to use the money without a care towards their statutory obligation to negotiate in good faith to protect their insured.

So it’s time that victims like Peggy Horton get the right from Albany to open up a settlement if you learn after you accept what you were mislead into believing was all the available insurance when in fact it wasn’t.

This unbridled corporate greed has to end. Insurance companies should not be allowed to cause additional harm to injured victims, to their insureds, and needlessly keep un-winnable litigation going for years and years without any recourse by the people they harm.

We all lose when this happens – our courts’ limited resources are clogged up with cases that should be resolved, victims who can’t work, who need the money to live are kept waiting forever and dragged through the system for no reason, and the people who paid their hard earned money to protect themselves with insurance are entitled to have the contract they paid for honored.



December 11th, 2009

NYC’s Top Lawyer Gets Reamed For Inefficiency (By Both Bench and Bar)

You just don’t often see a city’s top lawyer get shot down so hard and so fast as we did here in New York this week. Shortly after writing a column for the New York Law Journal on inefficiencies in the court system, an appellate court struck the city’s answer in a case they were defending. The court’s extraordinary action was taken due to a decade of delay by the city’s law department in furnishing documents to the plaintiff. This was followed by a blistering letter in the paper from two of this town’s top personal injury attorneys regarding more inefficiencies by the city.

It started Monday, December 7th, when city Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo published his version of a “Top 10” list related to court reform. The column focused its attention on our underpaid judiciary, lambasting them with a screed focusing on a lack of efficiency from the bench with respect to motions and trials. He suggested performance goals for the judges, focused on delayed decision making, more status reports from the judges, more evaluations of judges and moving judges to understaffed parts.

Response was swift, perhaps swifter than he ever imagined, and is an instant classic with respect to throwing stones from a glass house.

Just one day later, the Appellate Division Second Department decided Byam v. City of New York, lambasting  Cardozo’s office in a false arrest and malicious prosecution case for failing to produce records that were first requested in 1997. The court, in reviewing the numerous attempts to get the documents, finally struck the answer of the city as all other sanctions would have been insufficient, saying that their “willful and contumacious conduct can be inferred from their repeated failures, over an extended period of time, to comply with the discovery orders, together with the inadequate, inconsistent, and unsupported excuses for those failures to disclose.”

And Cardozo was trying to call the judiciary inefficient?

That  was followed yesterday, December 10th,  with a letter in the New York Law Journal that eviscerated Cardozo and his office. The letter, by Marc Dittenhoefer and Helene Blank (both well-known and well-respected among bench and bar) is reprinted here with their permission, in its entirety.

While one may believe that Dittenhofer and Blank have taken great risks by having this letter published, given the substantial amount of work they do where the city is the defendant and the risk of pay-back from that office, I agree with them that such inefficiencies must be disclosed. The idea of the city’s top lawyer throwing stones at the judiciary while he can’t clean up his own house is one that can not be ignored.

As attorneys practicing in the courts for over 30 years, we were eager to read what Michael Cardozo, our three-term Corporation Counsel had to say about the courts because, after all, one of the biggest problems we encounter on a regular basis is dealing with the Corporation Counsel’s office on almost every case in which the city is involved. We are not alone in our experiences. The court system and all litigants — plaintiffs or defendants, petitioners or respondents — have to regularly deal with the inefficient office. That is not to say that many of the women and men who toil there are not doing an excellent job, but the bureaucracy of the office
is designed to hamper, delay, sidetrack and stop the smooth and efficient progress of any lawsuit in which the city is involved. Instead, what we read was no less than a thinly veiled assault on our hard working judges and another plea for “merit selection” over election.

Mr. Cardozo would prefer that his boss have the ability to appoint all the members of the bench who will then preside over the cases that he litigates. Fortunately, that is unlikely to happen. The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and no matter how imperfect our system is, it is in our minds preferable to one person selecting the man or woman who will ultimately decide a client’s fate.

We have seen both the good and bad in both systems and no one who practices daily in our courts believes that merit selection is only done on the merits. We were disappointed that Mr. Cardozo didn’t take the time to inform the bench and the bar of what changes he is going to make in his third term to improve his own house. Because no matter how he views Office of Court Administration, at the beginning and end of the day the elected judges are accountable to the people who elected them, but his office is accountable directly to him. We speak from experience as plaintiff’s attorneys, defendant’s attorneys and court appointed fiduciaries. Ask any judge how easy it is to get the city to comply with a court order.

While without question there have been great strides at the city’s law department to operate more efficiently, it is still impossible to obtain even the most prosaic information from the city’s counsel in the course of legitimate litigation including the names of city contractors who are responsible to both the plaintiff and the city, due to the deliberate, arcane and byzantine methods it uses to catalogue same, apparently designed to frustrate identification and retrieval.

The inordinate delay caused by the city’s presence in a case prompts plaintiff’s counsel to do anything to avoid having to sue the city, which might very well have been the plan in the first instance. Yet, however satisfying such a misdirection might be to the winning hand, such is hardly the proper way for a city to treat its citizenry. And this is not yet to mention the eve of trial witness revelations that happen constantly.

Perhaps Mr. Cardozo, who in his article talks about removing matters from the courts, can explain why the city will not participate as a litigant in mediation let alone arbitration. Is there a 60-day reporting system for his attorneys? Are they being held accountable for failing to comply with court orders and for the repercussions that follow? Are his attorneys being evaluated on their performances? Or does he just accept as we are told to accept that the volume of cases, lack of sufficient staffing and budgetary constraints make it impossible to be better than they are?

We were offended by Mr. Cardozo’s article, offended for the judges who confront unmanageable caseloads, insufficient staffing, unreal expectations from OCA and Mr. Cardozo, and who suffer from low morale because they haven’t had a pay increase in more than a decade.

We were also offended because the article was written by the three-term Corporation Counsel whose own house needs serious re-ordering. Since Mr. Cardozo has the ability to impact the way his office operates, we sincerely hope his third term is spent getting his own office better prepared. Perhaps if that’s done, just once, when a litigant asks for the information to which s/he is entitled, they can get it so they might avoid litigation and not have to sue the city to keep the statute of limitations from running out. That would be a great thing to accomplish indeed.

Helene E. Blank
Marc M. Dittenhoefer
Full disclosure: I know both Blank and Dittenhoefer and frequently litigate against the city’s Corporation Counsel.