2006-03-17 / Front Page

Victims In Vicious Dog Attack Can Sue: Court

An appellate court recently ruled that two Rockaway residents who received massive injuries when they were attacked by a pack of wild dogs on the boardwalk in Arverne in 2001 can sue the City of New York, The Wave has learned.

The ruling by the N.Y. Appellate Division, Second Department reverses a Queens Supreme Court justice's dismissal of the cases in 2004.

On December 26, 2001, Lev Liberman, of Arvene, a then 74-year-old Russian immigrant, was taking an early morning walk on the boardwalk when he was stalked and attacked by a pack of dogs near Beach 69 Street. The dogs dragged him off of the boardwalk onto the adjacent lot and began consuming his flesh. Liberman's life was apparently saved when the second victim, Marlene Fils-Aime, 51, of Far Rockaway, passed by on the boardwalk and drew the dogs' attention away from Liberman.

The dogs then attacked Fils-Aime. She was knocked down and was being viciously bitten when two Good Samaritans arrived on the scene and chased the dogs away.

The attack left Liberman totally blind in both eyes, deaf in one ear and unable to care for himself. Liberman was severely disfigured, including the loss of both outer ears and most of his scalp and hair. Amazingly, he is still alive today.

Dog attack victim Lev Liberman before and after the vicious dog attack in 2001.
Dog attack victim Lev Liberman before and after the vicious dog attack in 2001. Fils-Aime sustained multiple severe bite wounds to her arms and legs which required skin grafting. She also sustained severe permanent muscle and nerve injuries to her legs.

Liberman and Fils-Aime brought separate lawsuits against the City of New York, which is the owner of the lots adjacent to the Boardwalk where the dog pack formed, lived, bred and hunted.

They say the city is responsible for failing to maintain the large stretch of vacant lots which make up the Arverne Urban Renewal Area. Attorneys for the victims, say that in the mid-1960s, the lots fell into a state of complete disrepair becoming completely overgrown and strewn with garbage and trash. The vast tracts of overgrown grassland created the perfect environment for stray dogs, released by owners who could not or would not continue to care for them, to meet and form into ultra-dangerous "packs," according to animal experts working for the victims' attorneys.

In ruling that Liberman and Fils-Aime can proceed to trial with their case against the city, the Appellate Court expressly rejected the city's defense that it was immune from the suit because "animal control" is a governmental activity. In rejecting that defense the court ruled that the city has the same duty to maintain property it owns as does a private citizen. The court also found that the victims had shown enough evidence of the city's failure to maintain the lots in question and a connection between that failure and the attacks to justify sending the case to trial before a jury.

Liberman is represented by David E. Waterbury of Elliot Ifraimoff & Associates, P.C. of Rego Park. Fils-Aime is represented by Richard J. Katz, LLP of New York City.

By Brian Magoolaghan

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