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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Crazy Love for Torts

Kate Butler (Cooley) points out that the story on which the Sundance entrant Crazy Love was based is also a reported case (Riss. v. New York) featured in at least the Prosser Torts casebook.  The dissent in the case describes its facts and the plaintiff's claim thus:

Linda Riss, an attractive young woman, was for more than six months terrorized by a rejected suitor well known to the courts of this State, one Burton Pugach. This miscreant, masquerading as a respectable attorney, repeatedly threatened to have Linda killed or maimed if she did not yield to him: "If I can't have you, no one else will have you, and when I get through with you, no one else will want you". In fear for her life, she went to those charged by law with the duty of preserving and safeguarding the lives of the citizens and residents of this State. Linda's repeated and almost pathetic pleas for aid were received with little more than indifference. Whatever help she was given was not commensurate with the identifiable danger. On June 14, 1959 Linda became engaged to another man. At a party held to Page 584 celebrate the event, she received a phone call warning her that it was her "last chance". Completely distraught, she called the police, begging for help, but was refused. The next day Pugach carried out his dire threats in the very manner he had foretold by having a hired thug throw lye in Linda's face. Linda was blinded in one eye, lost a good portion of her vision in the other, and her face was permanently scarred. After the assault the authorities concluded that there was some basis for Linda's fears, and for the next three and one-half years, she was given around-the-clock protection.

No one questions the proposition that the first duty of government is to assure its citizens the opportunity to live in personal security. And no one who reads the record of Linda's ordeal can reach a conclusion other than that the City of New York, acting through its agents, completely and negligently failed to fulfill this obligation to Linda.

Linda has turned to the courts of this State for redress, asking that the city be held liable in damages for its negligent failure to protect her from harm.

The majority opinion affirms the dismissal of the case on the basis of sovereign immunity.

The story gets more interesting after Pugach's release from prison.  From the recent NYT story (which is now subscription-only):

Ms. Riss became engaged to someone else and tried to end the affair with Mr. Pugach, who reacted by stalking her; he then hired three men who threw lye in her face, leaving her blind. During 14 years in prison for the crime, he remained obsessed with Ms. Riss, sending her letters and eventually persuading her to meet him after he was released in 1974. The two were married that year, and are still married today.

But there was more. A widely publicized trial in 1997 found Mr. Pugach back in a courtroom, defending himself against charges that he had sexually abused another woman and threatened to kill her. Standing by his side this time was Linda Pugach, who not only proclaimed her husband's innocence, but also took the stand in his defense.

A jury found him not guilty of making threats against his ex-mistress, but guilty of one count of second-degree harassment, which drew a sentence of 15 days in jail.

After prison he returned home to his wife.

Magnolia Pictures has acquired distribution rights.

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