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Ferry Crash Claimant's Arguments Miss the BoatAfter a Staten Island ferry carrying an estimated 1,500 passengers crashed into a concrete pier off New York in 2003, officials had no record of who was on the ferry. But one person who was most likely not on the ferry that afternoon is former security guard George Adde, according to a judge who this week threw out Adde's personal injury claim against New York City for neck and pain injuries Adde claimed to have suffered in the accident. Adde's story apparently began to fall apart soon after he sat down for his deposition.
New York Law Journal2009-11-06 12:00:00 AM
An accident involving a massive passenger ship, such as the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash, presents a practical and legal conundrum not associated with other mass transit disasters, such as airplane wrecks or train derailments.
Namely, after the Andrew J. Barberi crashed into a concrete pier on Staten Island on Oct. 15, 2003, officials had no passenger manifest, no record of how many people were aboard the 6,000-passenger vessel, let alone the names of the approximately 1,500 passengers who were on that afternoon's 3:30 ferry.
No one bought a ticket. And there are no videotapes of passengers boarding the ferry.
That said, one person who was most likely not on the Barberi that fall afternoon is former Bronx security guard George Adde, according to a federal judge in Brooklyn.
On Monday, Judge Tucker Melancon, a visiting judge from Louisiana, threw out Adde's personal injury claim against New York City for neck and pain injuries Adde claimed to have suffered in the accident.
Following a two-day bench trial, Melancon dismissed the case from the bench, ruling that Adde had failed to establish that he was even on the boat.
"The City correctly decided that this was a case that begged to be tried -- and justice prevailed," said Kenneth Sasmor, the city's lead litigator on the case, Adde v. City of New York, 08-cv-02912.
In his complaint, Adde claimed that after the ferry crashed he fell to the ground and several other passenger toppled on top of him. He suffered a herniated disc, he claimed, and underwent surgery in January 2004, three months after the accident. He sought between $450,000 and $600,000.
Adde's story began to fall apart soon after he sat down for his deposition. The story had two key flaws.
First, Adde described to the city's attorney, Sasmor, the ferry's approach to Manhattan, then after the crash, his walk to the Bowling Green subway station. But the boat crashed going the other way, as it approached the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.
Adde's trial attorney, Jason L. Paris of Paris & Chaikin, attributed that testimony to the fact that English is Adde's "fourth language."
"He had been deposed for two hours before they even asked about the ferry accident" Paris said. "They had just asked about previous trips. He got confused [as] to whether they were still asking him about his prior trips or that day."
Sasmor rejected the defense, saying, "While Mr. Adde did speak accented English, he spoke and understood English clearly and Judge Melancon expressly acknowledged that fact in weighing Mr. Adde's credibility."
Later in his deposition Adde recalled meeting with his business partner 30 minutes after getting off the doomed ferry. However, at trial, he said no such meeting took place.
Based on those contradictions, as well as the fact that Adde did not immediately seek medical attention, Melancon found that Adde lacked credibility and found in favor of the city, assigning all costs to Adde.
Paris said his client is standing by his story and considering all of his options regarding an appeal. He added that he believed Adde "100 percent."
"While I have complete respect for the district court judge," Paris said, "I think that he was misled by the city, and it's a travesty."
According to city records, 171 cases have been filed against the city stemming from the Barberi accident, in which 11 people were killed. So far, 161 cases have settled for a total of $66.87 million, three have been tried to conclusion (including Adde), for a total of $18.59 million and seven remain ongoing.
The New York City Department of Investigation led the investigation of the case after receiving a referral from the city comptroller's office. In a statement e-mailed Wednesday afternoon, Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn wrote, "When George Adde feigned an injury in an attempt to exploit the tragic Staten Island ferry crash, our investigation exposed what he did and the City's Law Department prevented the loss of tax dollars to a bogus claim. This case sends a message that the City is not a deep pocket that will passively pay out money to settle claims."