Pro Bono Barrister: Columbian Lawyers To Deal With Thorny Lien Problems

January 27, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Charles F. Otey, Esq.

In an era where trillions of dollars in debt remain unpaid, lawyers in all specialties must deal with troublesome and vexing problems of liens against property, real and personal. Settling the most basic negligence suit these days can require work made much more difficult when outstanding liens for medical and other expenses cloud the potential recovery by a plaintiff.

Adding to a host of new problems are the “investment” firms that “buy” potential and real returns from personal injury suits and annuities.

 So the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn will hold its next meeting featuring guest speaker Brett Newman, who knows a lot about the problem because he heads The Lien Resolution Group.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The CLE-accredited meeting gets underway 6 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Rex Manor on 60th Street and 11th Avenue, according to Columbian Program Chairs Justice Anthony J. Cutrona and Mark Longo.

The Columbians are headed this year by President Dominic Famulari and a slate of officers including First Vice President Bruno Codispoti, Second Vice President Robert J. Musso, Third Vice President Bartholomew T. Russo, Treasurer Mark Longo, Corresponding Secretary Rose Ann C. Branda, Recording Secretary Dean Delianites and Historian Aldo Alleva.

Msgr. David Cassato is chaplain. Board chair is Hon. Carl Landicino, and members include Grace Borrino, Mark Caruso, Lawrence DiGiovanna, Giana M. Famulari, John D. Famulari, Susanne Gennusa, Sara J. Gozo, Linda Locasio and Hon. Frank Seddio.

Publicity Chair Greg Cerchione promises all members attending will benefit in terms of CLE credits and a delicious meal by “one of the best restaurants in New York City.” Those who have been to the Rex would agree!

* * *

Judge Cyrulnik’s Victim
‘Emily’ Steals Show
At Inn Session

Leaders of the Kings County American Inn of Court, especially President Ross D’Apice, agree that Judge Miriam Cyrulnik scored a hit Tuesday night when she portrayed child accident victim “Emily” — all-day lollipop included — in a skit dealing with trial preparation.

 While we’ll have a more complete report in our next PBB on the session also led by Kings Inn President-elect Marc Dittenhoefer, praise for the panel was evident in the active participation of the audience which included the Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Chief Administrative Justice For Civil Matters here, immediate past president Hon. Gerard Rosenberg (an Inn founder), Justice Arthur Schack (Inn secretary), Justice Marsha Steinhardt (a founder), president Emeritus Hon. Edward Rappaport, (a founder), former justice Ira Harkavy (now a J.H.O.) Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, past president Helene Blank, past Brooklyn Bar Association president John Lonuzzi and others.

Other Inn officers include Counselor Justice Ellen Spodek and Treasurer Dave Chidekel, a leading ‘performer’ in other humorous and informative Inn presentations.

* * *

‘Captain of the Ship’ Harms
Carnival Cruises!

With his cowardly behavior — verified in print and through his own voice on tape — Capt. Francesco Schettino earned the tabloid title “Chicken of the Sea.”

One of the oldest written and unwritten rules is that the captain “goes down with the ship.” There’s a lot of common sense and experience behind this rule because the captain is the agent in charge of the ship’s owners and is the legal nexus required to hold them liable for ordinary accidents and tragedies, such as what happened with the Costa Concordia.

Comparatively few lawyers probably know more about Admiralty and Maritime Law than what we learned in law school, where this branch of jurisprudence was often an elective course.

But I had the good fortune to run into a seaworthy lawyer at a meeting a few years back who really knows the legalities surrounding the Costa Concordia mess. So I got in touch with him. Good news: He graciously responded to my request for some legal comments — under the condition of total anonymity.

So, appropriately, we’ll call him “Deep Anchor.” His reply contained the following random comments that should be of particular interest to barristers and others wondering whether all of the four thousand plus passengers will have viable causes of action for negligence.

Deep Anchor’s very candid comments show how the rules of the sea are much more complicated and arcane than the liability laws which govern an operating room (where ironically the “captain of the ship” doctrine often applies) or accidents on public roads. Much of it is stacked against the plaintiff, limiting recovery. In many ways, Maritime Law is calculated to favor and protect the shipping industry.

* * *

‘Deep Anchor’
Weighs In on
Costa Concordia Disaster

PBB Note: Deep Anchor’s anonymous comments were made within just a few days of the Carnival Cruise line’s ship sinking after striking a reef off the Italian coast. The death total has now risen to 16 persons:  

“Since nearly all of the Concordia’s passengers are Europeans, except for a few U.S. citizens — including two dead from Minnesota — the Costa Line will most probably commence a limitation proceeding in Italy in order to bring all the suits into one court.

“Most likely the passage contract [ticket] has a venue and forum selection provision and time to sue clause and choice of law. There may even be limitations amounts per the treaty known as the ‘Athens Convention.’”

“Although there will be several wrongful death claims and serious fractures most of the passengers and crew seem to have escaped serious injury. No doubt there will be claims for PTSD — the [insurance] underwriters and their attorneys will try to buy up the cases to keep them [away] from good plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Most foreign crew members agree [beforehand] to a workers’ comp scheme and arbitration of claims. Since many of the crew are from developing or third world nations, they are reluctant to file a claim, because if they do they might have difficulty in securing a berth on another cruise ship.”

Did Capt. Schettino Gain
Command Too Soon?

“One of the many interesting things here is the background and training of the master (Capt Schettino). I read somewhere that 10 years ago he was a security officer on a ship, and his rapid promotion to master of a large cruise ship is unheard of. In the past, a person would have been in all the ranks from third officer to second to first or chief officer, to staff captain, and only then to master. Normally you would expect a person to have spent 25 years at sea before being given command of such a large cruise ship.

“I am sure the [ship’s] flag state and port state will be looking into the qualifications and training of the unlicenced seafarers who apparently were not well trained in letting go the lifeboats; also the issue of language competency and training and drills will be looked at very closely.

“I still know that travel aboard cruise ship is a lot safer than travel by car or bus or airplane.

“The worst part of this is the stupidity of the master in attempting to bring the ship off course in order to pass close to the island and blow the ship’s whistle and show off the ship to the island’s residents. ¼ It will be interesting to ascertain his blood alcohol content, if any.”

Based on a long maritime background, Deep Anchor commented candidly that “no one did anything so stupid as is alleged herein,” and added that modern technology would tell the true story: “Today with the ‘black box’ and recording of bridge communications and course recorders and tapes of engine maneuvers, the investigators and lawyers will have a lot to work with.”

After ‘Captain Chicken’ Fled, Was Ship
Liable to Claim?

Over the years — especially after watching a number of ocean-going, swashbuckling movie thrillers — we’ve heard stories to the effect that once a captain had officially abandoned ship, that the vessel could be claimed by any other ship that was first to come to its rescue!

Could this romantic notion be true? Did it have any basis in maritime reality? After all that’s what Captain Bly and Mister Christian said!

We asked Deep Anchor if Capt. Schettino’s jumping (or falling, as he ridiculously said later) off the Concordia — then announcing in a ship-to-shore radio that he had ‘abandoned’ ship — left the shop open to such a claim.

Technically, Deep Anchor noted, there is a claim possible by another ship in certain situations but it’s called salvage and can only occur under very specific conditions, as D.A. patiently explained:

“In order for pure salvage to occur, the ship must be in imminent marine peril, the service must be voluntary and it must be successful. No cure, no pay. Most likely they will contract out with salvage companies.

“A salvor does not gain ownership or title but has a claim for a salvage award — i.e., a reward. It is not quantum meruit, and the courts are generous to salvors in order to encourage people to risk their lives and property to save others.

“For example, a firefighter on duty has no claim for salvage because he/she is not a volunteer. In order for the Law of Finds to govern, there must be abandonment for a lengthy period of time.”

We at PBB are indebted to the informative and very instructive comments on the relative law and would add that, if a story in the New York Post (Tuesday, Jan. 24) is accurate, Capt. Schettino could be in even more trouble.

According to the Post — in a piece titled ‘Rich Tourists Bribed Way Onto Lifeboats’ — the ship’s master was entertaining a beautiful woman on the bridge along with a group of affluent partying passengers from Russia. Moments before his ship smashed into a reef off Giglio, Schettino had been distracted by his guests on the bridge, ship’s officer Silvia Coronika told authorities.”

PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to [email protected].
Notice: Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.

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