LIRR riders waiting for a train. Photo from court document

Just as riding the Long Island Rail Road commuter train requires a ticket, bringing tort or contract claims against it typically requires a claim notice.

But the plaintiffs in a proposed class action taking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to task for bad service on the LIRR have found an alternate route—a narrow “public interest” exception to the requirement.

The suit, filed last year during what Gov. Andrew Cuomo dubbed the “summer of hell” for frustrated straphangers as crews commenced track work at Penn Station in Manhattan, alleges that chronically delayed and cancelled trains have gotten the plaintiffs in trouble with their bosses, made them miss job interviews and caused them emotional and physical distress.

The conditions are also putting commuters’ lives at risk, said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Liggieri of the Derek Smith Law Group, himself a Long Island resident and an LIRR rider who says delays cause train platforms to become dangerously crowded, increasing the risk that someone could fall into the train bed.

The MTA moved to dismiss the suit, asserting sovereign immunity and that the plaintiffs didn’t take the usual step of serving a notice of claim.

Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Antonio Brandveen agreed with the MTA that the lack of claim notice should be grounds for dismissing the plaintiffs’ intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

But the judge said he agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that their breach of carriage contract and negligence claims should be subject to a public interest exception to the requirement, a “slim reed” created through appellate case law.

Brandveen found that the plaintiffs seek to vindicate the public’s interest that the MTA is following state statute requiring it to operate “safe and adequate” facilities and set a hearing to schedule discovery in the case; the MTA can reassert its sovereign immunity defense in a summary judgment motion, the judge said.

Liggieri said he pushed for the public interest exception instead of litigating the notice of claim because “time is of the essence” to protect LIRR riders and that he saw the former as the quicker route.

“I knew I had to file immediately to get answers from the LIRR,” he said. Liggieri also said he sees the ruling as potentially opening door for additional straphangers who are fed up with other New York City metro area commuter trains like the Metro North and the Amtrak from New Jersey.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman from LIRR, said the authority “respectfully” disagrees with the ruling and intends to appeal.