2010-06-25 / Top Stories

Settlement In Dog Maul Case

By Howard Schwach

The dog pack attacks took place on the boardwalk at Beach 69 Street, which was, at the time of the attack, a series of empty, weed and brush-strewn lots where row upon row of bungalows and summer hotels once stood. The dog pack attacks took place on the boardwalk at Beach 69 Street, which was, at the time of the attack, a series of empty, weed and brush-strewn lots where row upon row of bungalows and summer hotels once stood. The Wave has learned that the city has settled a lawsuit with a Rockaway woman who was mauled by a pack of wild dogs on the boardwalk at Beach 69 Street nearly a decade ago.

That deal, in which the city will pay Marlene Fils-aime $75,000, was finalized on Wednesday.

On December 26, 2001, Fils-Aime, then 51 years old, was jogging on the boardwalk when she spotted a pack of dogs dragging an elderly man off the boardwalk and onto a nearby empty lot.

She moved towards the dogs, momentarily drawing their attention away from the man, later identified as Lev Liberman, then 74, of Arverne. The Russian immigrant was taking an early morning walk on the boardwalk when he was stalked and attacked by the pack, which included two Rottweiler, a pit bull and a German shepherd mix. The dogs dragged him off the boardwalk onto the adjacent lot and began consuming his flesh.

When the dogs saw Fils-Aime, they chased her down. She was knocked down and was being viciously bitten when two Good Samaritans arrived on the scene and used sticks to chase 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, in- cluding 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 and requires round-the-clock health care.

Liberman settled his case with the city for $3 million in 2007.

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.

Robert Danzi, the attorney for Fils- Aime argued that the city is responsible for failing to maintain the large stretch of vacant lots which makes 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.

To add to the problem, Danzi says, the city’s Department of Sanitation dumped garbage awaiting transportation to a landfill on the empty lots next to the boardwalk, creating a place where the dogs often congregated to eat.

Danzi contended that the city knew the dogs were roaming in that area and should have done something to round them up.

At this trial, Danzi had to prove a very narrow issue – that the city knew of the particular pack of dogs that attacked Fils-Aime.

“Sometimes, the court and the law require a very narrow issue of proof,” Danzi told The Wave after the settlement. “The facts in this case allowed us to prove that fact, to achieve justice and to effect change.”

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 could 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.

After the settlement, Connie Pankratz, a Law Department spokesperson, said, “The settlement was in the best interests of all parties.”

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