The law’s made to take care o’ raskills. – George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
Multiple pun alert: We’re now going to take a break from the Skush-O’Brien case and skip back to the other lawsuit I told you about. Which should have been a simple personal injury case involving my right foot and one of its metatarsals.
Indeed, I intended to use this predictable lawsuit here, in Sidebar for Plaintiffs, as a bare-bones exemplar, a sort of lawsuit primer. I was figuring three, maybe four posts would capture the entire process from injury to settlement.
But after three years, long after the bandages were removed, this thing still hasn’t been wrapped up. But I’ve learned how and why an apparently straightforward lawsuit can take forever.
On the afternoon of January 25, 2008, as I was walking home with groceries, half of my right foot sunk into a hole in the sidewalk of a house down the block from my place. (The other half remained on the sidewalk.)
In pain, I hopped over to a parked car, leaned up against it and gazed into the offending hole. The sidewalk had not been properly maintained: several pieces of slate were missing and others were loose.
On behalf of the neighborhood and all the sidewalks of New York, I knew I’d have to sue. This is a neighborhood where, on this very morning after another huge snowfall, the sidewalks of nearly all the houses are beautifully cleared, with darling little paths through the three foot high drifts to the street. My neighbors were out at cock’s crow with their shovels. (Right now, one of my neighbors—a renter, not even an owner— is out there shoveling a parking space.)
A neighborhood that so scrupulously, so proudly maintains itself deserves to be protected by a lawsuit such as the one I knew I’d have to file.
A few months earlier, September 2008, I’d filed in Supreme Court the lawsuit called Fein v. The Skush-O’Briens. Some of my relatives continued to express anxiety at my litigation enthusiasm. Now, as I leaned up against the car in pain, I was also wryly amused, thinking, “Oh no! How am I going to tell everybody I’ve got another lawsuit?”
Later, lawyers would ask me over and over – in hope or dark doubt, depending on what side they were on – whether I’d fallen, or pled for help, or called an ambulance, or yowled. Nah. I’m a stoical, independent creature. Hoping it was just a bad sprain, I’d limped very slowly home and managed to crawl up that one flight of stairs to my apartment.
Because I’m a football aficionado, I know all about ice bags and keep some in my freezer in case of a football injury. Which this was. I wrapped the icebags around my foot, tied them with a towel and, yes, the swelling went down. (Thank you, Ronnie Barnes.)
Next morning, my brother, who has a car and profound sibling kindness, drove me one block to St.Vincent’s ER. Knowing St. Vinnie’s ER and the likelihood I was too minor an injury even to be part of any triage, I had brought a book. Indeed, I had to hang around the ER all day reading. In the evening, after x-rays, a young doctor came over and said, “You broke your foot.” I enjoyed her unsympathetic curtness (but maybe she was then aware that the Church was mismanaging the hospital into bankruptcy and in a couple of years the Village would be out of a hospital and she out of a job).
A nurse wrapped my foot in a cast, gave me crutches and instructions about using them. I was told to keep weight off my foot for six weeks. And to see a doctor. My brother took me home.
Aside from reading, I’d spent the long day at St. Vinnie’s mentally listing my invalid (and litigation) requirements. I needed a friend to take photos of the sidewalk. I needed a podiatrist. I needed to learn how to order food to be delivered, via the magical instrument known as a telephone (I’d never ordered in before), and how to order laundry out.
I needed my guest mattress to be hauled down from above the bathtub so I could sleep on the floor–I couldn’t make it up to my loft bed. I needed to find a personal injury lawyer.
I needed to cancel lunch on Monday with a friend, and give away my Met Opera ticket to Die Walküre.
But most importantly, most crucially of all, I needed my brother to climb up into my loft bed, turn the TV around to face into the room, prop the cable box on the rim of the bed, and hand me the remote.
Because, on the following Sunday, February 3, my underdog New York Giants were going to play the unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl. Hell with the foot. I was not going to miss this Super Bowl.