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When Richard Laratro suffered a stroke just before noon on Sept. 10, 1999, it took 35 minutes after his co-worker Carol Edelson called 911 for an ambulance to arrive. The delay prevented Laratro from timely receiving “clot-busting” therapy, which resulted in brain damage, among other things, according to his attorney. Whether New York City is now held liable for Laratro’s injuries may come down to the closeness of his friendship with Edelson. Last week, an Appellate Division, 1st Department, panel re-examined the “special relationship” exception to the general rule that a municipality may not be held liable for neglecting to provide emergency services. The panel held that a friend acting on a person’s behalf may satisfy the special-relation exception’s requirement of “direct contact” between the plaintiff and the municipality. The panel reversed Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten’s decision to grant the city’s motion to dismiss and reinstated Laratro’s claim. “In the face of the allegations, we cannot categorically state, as a matter of law, that Edelson’s relationship with Laratro was not close enough to qualify her contact with emergency services on his behalf as direct contact by plaintiff,” Justice David B. Saxe wrote for the 4-1 majority in Laratro v. City of New York, 5796. Justices George D. Marlow, Luis A Gonzalez and John W. Sweeny Jr. joined the majority. Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli dissented. On the morning of his stroke, Laratro exercised before walking to his office at a Manhattan real-estate management company, where he complained to colleagues that he did not feel well. Edelson, his friend and co-worker of 12 years, testified that Laratro appeared dizzy and disoriented. He soon became non-responsive. She called 911 at 11:26 a.m. “The ambulance will be there as soon as possible,” a police communication technician told her. However, the technician rated the call a six on a one-to-eight scale, with one being the most serious. The call was later handled by a New York City Fire Department operator who also rated it a six. The first two “basic life support” ambulances assigned to Laratro were redirected to calls with more serious ratings. An ambulance did not arrive at Laratro’s office until 12:01. The lag resulted in a delay in the administration of the anti-clotting agent tPA, according to Laratro’s attorney, Walter G. Alton Jr. The stroke resulted in brain damage, headaches and loss of memory, among other problems, according to Alton, the principal of Walter G. Alton & Associates. Laratro and his wife filed the present action, alleging the city negligently failed to timely respond to the call for emergency services. The city moved for summary judgment, arguing that no special relationship existed between Laratro and the city and that the city was therefore immune. Bransten granted the city’s motion. On Thursday, the 1st Department reversed. The Court of Appeals has held that generally municipalities will not be held liable for negligence in their performance of governmental functions, Justice Saxe said. That rule, however, is not applied “where a municipality undertakes to act on behalf of a particular citizen who detrimentally relies on an illusory promise of protection … because in such cases the municipality has … created a ‘special relationship’ with the individual seeking protection,” he wrote, quoting Kircher v. City of Jamestown, 74 NY2d 251. In a separate case, Cuffy v. City of New York, 69 NY2d 255, the court set forth a four-prong test to determine whether such a relationship exists, including “some form of direct contact between the municipality’s agents and the injured party.” Such contact may exist “where there is a ‘close relationship’ between the interests of the caller and that of the person in need,” Saxe added, quoting Cuffy. In prior cases, a mother and a girlfriend have been held to satisfy the “close relationship” requirement, whereas a “disinterested volunteer” or a mere “good Samaritan” have not, according to Saxe. “The City characterizes Edelson as a ‘mere’ friend of Laratro’s, so as to equate the present case with [the] ‘good Samaritan’ case,” Saxe wrote. “However, many kinds of relationships are covered by the word ‘friend.’” Therefore, Justice Saxe concluded that “there was sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to whether the contact on the part of Edelson … satisfies the direct contact requirement.” In her dissent, Mazzarelli suggested that the holding expanded the parameters of liability for municipalities, a decision best left for the Legislature. Alton said he is confident that his client will prevail on the issue as framed by Saxe. Laratro and Edelson “were very close,” he said. “They had been working together for [nearly] 15 years.” Julie Steiner and Barry P. Schwartz represented the Corporation Counsel. “We firmly believe that the recent decision is erroneous and that as a matter of law the requirements necessary to establish a special duty toward the plaintiff here have not been met,” Schwartz said in a statement. “We are contemplating moving in the Appellate Division for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.”

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