Madeline Lee Bryer, P.C.  Attorneys at Law Victim Rights Madeline Lee Bryer, P.C.  Attorneys at Law Victim Rights
(212-370-0630)
Madeline Lee Bryer, P.C.  Attorneys at Law Victim Rights Madeline Lee Bryer, P.C.  Attorneys at Law Victim Rights
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RAPE VICTIMS' STRONG SUIT: NEGLIGENT LANDLORDS ARE UNDER ATTACK
New York Daily News, February 6, 1989

HISTORICALLY, THE only legal decision most rape victims made following an attack was whether to file criminal charges against their attackers. Now, however, counselors and service professionals are wielding a new anti-rape weapon - civil suits brought against negligent owners or managers of a crime site.

Two women who were sexually assaulted on the roof of the Helmsley Parkchester complex in the Bronx last month, for example, settled their suit against the landlord for $575,000.

The most recent outrage in the news was the alleged rape Jan. 21 of a Metropolitan Hospital patient by a hospital aide and security guard while she lay helpless on a stretcher.

When Madeline Bryer, a social worker at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, was sexually assaulted in her upper East Side apartment by a building employee who entered with her spare set of keys in 1979, she brought suit against the landlord for having taken inadequate precautions to protect her. Bryer settled out of court for a sum that put her through Brooklyn Law School. Now 41. Bryer is a member of the Mayor's Task Force Against Sexual Assault and specializes in personal injury suits with a personal meaning- representing women who have been raped on "unsecured" (unsafe) premises.

Lona Siegel, director of the Rape Crisis Intervention Project at Mount Sinai Hospital says the litigation trend isn't a result of misplaced blame or opportunistic victims seeking to soak an innocent institution.

"The more landlords you sue, the more landlords will take safety precautions to protect their tenants," Siegel says.

Eileen Ross, a blind victim of "the Spiderman Rapist," whose 1986 spree of terror devastated residents of Brooklyn and the upper East Side, had pestered Glenwood Management Corp. for months to repair the broken window lock in her "luxury" apartment that rapist Tyrone

Graham used for entry. She settled out of court last October for an ample sum that legal documents forbid her from revealing. Ross, who used the interest of her settlement money to move to Oregon, says defendants condition a settlement on a plaintiff's silence "as a means of control, to prevent others from filing suits against landlords who are responsible for them having been raped."

As the stigma of sexual assault fades and legal information is disseminated, more women are willing to wrestle before the bench with derelict landlords, employers, colleges and other institutions.

A frequent speaker at rape prevention seminars, Bryer is now representing a woman who says she was raped in an unpoliced, co-ed bathroom of a well-known nightclub. Another client was raped in public housing: "Her intercom hadn't been working for months. There was no phone-just a wire sticking out of the wall-and the door lock didn't work"

PROPONENTS OF civil suits argue that financial penalties goad owners into maintaining safe premises more effectively than legislation. Landlords may ignore small fines for code violations, says Bryer, but when socked for $450,000 in damages for failing to install a $100 lock, they are motivated to mend the premises.

"It doesn't take away the nightmare, but after having had all your power and control taken away. (a civil suit) gives some back," Siegel says. Besides financing medical and psychological treatment, a spit can be psychologically healing, she notes.

Bryer was motivated to represent such victims after her own experience: "People brag about living in a doorman building, but ... there's no assurance a landlord or property manager has screened employees to see if they have sex (or other) crimes in their backgrounds." Her attacker had a record of sex crimes.

Because personal injury attorneys work on contingency (usually taking up to a third of any winnings), victims, regardless of income level, can afford to pursue an action if they find a lawyer to accept their case. However, victims say that, while winning a suit can be a cause for exultation, the proceedings themselves can compound a woman's post-traumatic stress.

Women, Know Your Rights
CIVIL SUITS against the owners of a crime site are just one facet of victims fighting back at the bench. Vie-tints are also suing employers who fail to screen employees for criminal records, and, in some cases. the rapists themselves.

Advocates say more victims would sue if informed of their legal rights. "Everybody from the middle class on up thinks in terms of lawyers, but the poor are disenfranchised from this concept," says lawyer Madeline Bryer.

Those who want to file civil suits, adds Bryer, "need to be aware there are time limits. They don't have a cause of action indefinitely and they may lose their right to sue." The statute of limitations when suing state and city agencies, for example, is much shorter than for private concerns.

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