Citation. Court of Appeals of New York, 1968. 22 N.Y.2d 579, 240 N.E.2d 860, 293 N.Y.S.2d 897.)
Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff Lisa Riss called the police on her ex-partner, who was terrorizing her. Defendant, the New York Police Department, did not act upon her first or second call for help. Later the Plaintiff’s ex-partner hired someone to throw lye on the Plaintiff causing severe damages. Plaintiff brings suit against the municipality of New York for damages.
Plaintiff Lisa Riss called the police on her ex-partner, who was terrorizing her. Defendant, the New York Police Department, did not act upon her first call. Once Plaintiff was celebrating her engagement, her ex-partner threatened her by saying it was her last chance. Plaintiff tried to call Defendant, and they once again did not act upon her request for protection. Later the Plaintiff’s ex-partner hired someone to throw lye on the Plaintiff causing severe damages. Plaintiff brings suit against the municipality of New York for damages.
Is a municipality liable for failing to protect a citizen of its region from a criminal?
No, a municipality is not liable for failing to protect a citizen of its region from a criminal.
Justice Keating, J.
Justice Keating begins by asserting what they think of the majority opinion because we owe a duty to everybody; we owe it to nobody. The dissent then attacks the idea of financial disaster being a myth. They cite the other areas where tort liability was allowed and how the resources were found, and the fear of not having predictable limits was overcome. Further, the argument regarding the crushing burden it will put on the state is unfounded. Every crime will not give rise to a lawsuit since there are still limitations in place, such as foreseeability and proximate cause. Finally, Justice Keating destroys the majority’s argument of judicial interference. All courts do is judicially interfere; every time they rule on a hospital’s malpractice suit, they assert liability on the state without the legislature. In the coming future, a line will have to be drawn on tort liability for municipalities, and it should be drawn on lines of fairness and candid considerations of policy.
A municipality is not liable for failing to protect a person in their region. The court begins by contrasting what the scope of tort liability for a municipality or state is. Previously there was sovereign immunity for the municipality, which shielded them from liability. In recent times sovereign immunity has been limited. For example, a municipality may suffer tort liability for certain activities the government provided services for, such as highways and public buildings. If a person is harmed on one of these public forums, the state may suffer tort liability. However, the case in question here regards the provision of governmental service to protect the public generally from external hazards and particularly to control criminal wrongdoers’ activities. The amount of protection that may be provided is limited by the resources of the community. The burden of protecting people from specific hazards must be allocated based on the community resources; this is different than allocating resources to a hospital or rapid transit system. Before this court can extend this tort liability, there needs to be a legislative determination to be the scope of public responsibility. The court concedes that there is an increased amount of crime, and it is easy to place that burden on the municipality. To foist a presumed cure for these problems by judicial innovation of a new kind of liability in tort would be foolhardy and an assumption of judicial wisdom and power. Finally, the court distinguishes the Plaintiff’s harm and the lack of liability to a situation where the Defendant’s police authority undertakes the responsibility to particular members of the public and exposes them without adequate protection to harm.