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Riss v. New York

Citation. 22 N.Y.2d 579, 240 N.E.2d 860, 293 N.Y.S.2d 897
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was terrorized for months by a rejected suitor. The suitor threatened bodily harm and murder to plaintiff. Plaintiff repeatedly solicited the help of defendant, who consistently refused. After plaintiff became engaged to another man, the suitor hired a person to throw lye in plaintiff’s face. Plaintiff was permanently scarred and was blinded in one eye as a result. Plaintiff sued defendant for failing to provide her with protection.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

In the absence of legislation, a municipality cannot be held liable in tort for failing to protect a member of the public.


Linda Riss (plaintiff) was pursued romantically by Burton Pugach. Riss rejected Pugach’s advances. Pugach did not take kindly to Riss’s repeated refusals. On multiple occasions, Pugach threatened retaliation if Riss did not yield to his advances. Riss alerted the New York law enforcement multiple times of Pugach’s threats of personal harm to her. Her pleas for help were ignored each time. When Riss became engaged to another man, Pugach called her and warned that it was her “last chance.” Riss called the New York police, begging for help, but was refused. The next day, Pugach hired a person to throw lye in Riss’s face. She was blinded in one eye and lost a good portion of her vision in the other eye as a result of the incident. Riss sued the City of New York (defendant) for failing to protect her from Pugach. The trial court dismissed her complaint and the Appellate Division affirmed. Riss appealed.


Whether a municipality may be held liable for failure to provide special protection to a member of the public who was repeatedly threatened with personal harm and eventually suffered personal injuries for lack of such protection?


No, municipality cannot be held liable in tort for failing to provide special protection to a member of the public. The order of the Appellate Division is affirmed.


Justice Keating

The proper question in this case is whether or not there should be liability for the negligent failure to provide adequate police protection. As time went on, it was established that Riss was “a reputable person” and there were verifiable attempts that she was threatened with personal harm. Therefore, the City of New York should have further investigated Riss’s case or provided her with protection.


Governmental services such as police protection are limited. The judiciary cannot proclaim a general duty of protection in the law of tort, because the judiciary cannot determine how limited police resources should be allocated. The decision as to how to allocate resources and liabilities is better left to legislators. In the absence of legislation, there is no warrant to create liability in tort for failure to provide police protection to members of the public. However, liability may be imposed when police authorities undertake responsibilities to specific members of the public and—without adequate protection—expose them to risk.

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