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Riss v. New York

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Linda Riss (Plaintiff), was continuously harassed by a jilted lover, who eventually paid someone to throw lye in Plaintiff’s face, seriously injuring her. Plaintiff asked for protection from the police on multiple occasions, but received little or no help.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Police authorities are not liable for failing to provide special protection to individuals threatened with harm.

    Facts. Plaintiff was continuously terrorized by an attorney, Burton Pugach (Pugach), who was in love with her. Pugach repeatedly threatened to kill or maim plaintiff. Plaintiff informed the police, but received little or no help. After Plaintiff became engaged to another man, she received a phone call telling her it was her last chance. Plaintiff again contacted police, but was again refused help. The next day a criminal hired by Pugach threw lye in Plaintiff’s face, blinding her in one eye and permanently scarring her face. After the assault, Plaintiff received constant police protection for the next three and one half years. Plaintiff sued the Defendant, New York (Defendant), as a municipality for faailure to provide her with special protection due to her circumstances. A divided Appellate Division dismissed the complaint.

    Issue. Was the Appellate Division correct in determining that a municipality is not liable for failure to provide special protection when an individual is threatened with physical harm, and the individual does eventually suffer harm due to the lack of protection?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * To allow Plaintiff’s cause of action based on these facts would require this court to create a new and general duty of protection in the law of tort. This would have the effect of determining how limited police resources should be allocated without predictable limits. If any tort liabilities are imposed in this area, it should be the decision of the legislature.

    Dissent. Judge Keating state that the city’s argument is that since we owe a duty to everybody, we owe it to no one. The justification for not allowing a cause of action in this case is that it would expose the state and municipality to limitless liability. There is no empirical support for this claim. Indirectly, courts review administrative practices in almost every tort case against the State or a municipality and can do the same in the present case.

    Discussion. Unlike the present case, if police authorities undertake responsibilities to specific individuals and expose them to risks without adequate protection, tort actions are allowed.


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