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Lawyers Aggressively Recruiting NYC Ferry Victims for Clients

By Susan Saulny

The New York Times -- NEW YORK

Two days after a Staten Island ferry crashed last month, killing 10 passengers and injuring dozens of others, the New York State Bar Association issued an advisory reminding lawyers “to adhere to the code of professional responsibility” and refrain from soliciting work or pressuring survivors to sue.

Not everyone got the message, apparently.

Lawyers took out television and newspaper advertisements aimed at recruiting the ill-fated ferry’s roughly 1,000 passengers as clients. Now, nearly three weeks after the crash, about 40 survivors have signaled they intend to sue the city. While they list a variety of injuries, together they are seeking a huge payout -- $1.3 billion.

Some of the claims are for wrongful death or severe injuries. The widow of a man who was killed after telling her on his cell phone that the ship was going too fast is suing for $500 million. A husband and wife want $120 million for injuries that include leg amputations.

But some passengers are seeking large awards even though they suffered little or no physical injury: One woman wants the city to pay her $200 million for losing sleep. Others are seeking up to $10 million solely for emotional trauma.

All of the figures, as in many personal injury lawsuits, may be wishful thinking. But for now the law still requires a figure in the claim notices, and there is a tight filing deadline: victims have just 90 days from the crash to file. Some lawyers said they were worried the public was unaware of that deadline, so they sought to publicize it with ads.

But representatives of professional legal organizations say they are dismayed by the spectacle. And some of the seriously injured who lost legs and other limbs and the relatives of those who died say they are offended by what looks like a money grab by other survivors.

Lloyd Joseph fractured his back when the ferry crashed and was still being treated for various injuries at a Staten Island hospital last week. Joseph and his lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, during a conference call interview, lamented the fact that some of the lawsuits stemming from the accident seem frivolous.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Rubenstein, who did not advertise for ferry crash clients. “Obviously, the public might have a problem taking seriously a claim that is serious when others that are not that serious are filed for huge amounts.” Joseph and his wife, Jocelyn, are seeking $105 million in their lawsuit.

Izet Adzemovic, a cook who said he hurt his back and neck in the accident, said he does not think it is wise for victims to judge other victims, but that it was hard to believe everything being claimed.

“It’s easy to say you were hurt,” said Adzemovic, who is seeking $10 million. “I don’t know if those other people were injured or not. I think people will have a lot to prove.”