Dog Maul Case Goes To Trial
On December 26, 2001, Lev Liberman, of Arverne, 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 the boardwalk onto an adjacent lot and began consuming his flesh.
Liberman’s life was apparently saved when the dog pack’s second victim, Marlene Fils-Aime, 51, of Far Rockaway, passed by on the boardwalk and intentionally 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, although his attorney says that he lives in a world of pain.
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.
Now, more than eight years later, Fils-Aime’s case against New York City has gone to Queens Supreme Court in the Long Island City courtroom that once saw the trial of famed bank robber Willy Sutton and others.
Liberman’s case was reportedly settled prior to trial.
Robert Danzi, the attorney for Fils- Aime and her husband (in a derivative case), argues that the city is responsible for failing to maintain the large stretch of vacant lots which make up the Arverne Urban Renewal Area.
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 ultradangerous “packs,” according to animal experts.
So far, since the civil trial before eight jurors began on Friday, June 11, those jurors have heard from a police officer who responded to the original call; a land expert who testified that the city did, in fact, own the land; a Department of Sanitation worker who testified that his agency often dumped garbage for later collection in that area, between the boardwalk and Rockaway Beach Boulevard; a Wave editor who testified that there had been many calls about dogs menacing people in that area prior to the attack; and the doctor who treated one of the victims at a local hospital.
In 2006, an appellate court ruled that the two Rockaway residents could sue the City of New York. The ruling by the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department reversed a Queens Supreme Court justice’s dismissal of the cases in 2004.
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.
The trial is expected to last into next week.