Monday, January 5, 2009

The sidewalks of New York

Thousands of maps detail the various hundreds of thousands of imperfections in the sidewalks of New York. Whence these maps? They are the work of the the improbably-titled Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Committee, an organization created by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association:

They were conceived by a group of trial lawyers who hired a mapping company to scour the streets and sketch every crack, chink and pothole, with the ostensible purpose of giving the city notice of potential hazards it must fix, or face the consequences. When someone fell and was injured on a city sidewalk — the most frequent ground for a personal-injury lawsuit against the city — he could present the map in court as hard evidence of the city’s liability.

City officials have long attacked the maps as nothing more than a useless collection of "700,000 squiggles," created by greedy lawyers, that has forced them to parse the intricacies of geometry — is that line horizontal or vertical? — and cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in damage awards and settlements.

But now, a recent court ruling has dug a sizable gouge in the pothole map.

In a decision issued Dec. 18, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, for the first time echoed the city's argument that the maps are inaccurate and unclear.

Ruling Deals a Setback to Sidewalk Injury Lawsuits in New York (New York Times)
In this recent case, the Times reports, a judge wrote that one of the squiggles in question resembled "a poorly drawn X, the Hebrew letter shin, or a pitchfork without the handle."

[Why "improbably-titled"? "Protection Committee" has a presumably unintentional — and to my mind hilarious — overtone of organized-crime rackets. And only out-of-towners still speak of the "Big Apple."]

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