I’m not sure why the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association turned on Irving Pinsky the other day. Pinsky filed a claim before the state’s Claim Commissioner seeking permission to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a survivor of the Newtown shooting. After the world erupted against Pinsky in outrage, CTLA jumped on the bandwagon, issuing a press release suggesting that Pinsky’s timing was all wrong.
What’s this? CTLA as tort reformer?
Pinsky’s claim was admittedly hare-brained. I cannot imagine a conceivable cause of action that would make the state liable for what any of the survivors of the Newtown shooting endured. The school district is a municipal entity, after all. Even Attorney General George Jepson did a weak-chinned impersonation of Richard Blumenthal, excoriating Pinsky, reciting the obvious – the state is not liable.
But the Town of Newtown might have a problem on its hands.
It turns out that as the massacre of 20 students and six adults was taking place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, school officials broadcast sounds of the shootings throughout the entire school. One source tells me the justification was that only in this way would the rest of the school realize this was a real crisis, and not a drill, taking place at the school.
That’s not much of a justification. It strikes me that the trauma to the surviving children was enhanced, not mitigated, to the broadcast of their classmates’ execution. A municipality can be liable if its agents engage in conduct that creates an imminent risk of harm to a foreseeable victim. An argument can be made that this horrible broadcast was both unnecessary, and damaging to all who heard it. It is not difficult to believe that some parents might file suit on behalf of their children for this grisly show and tell.
Pinsky seemed to understand this theory, even as he failed to draw a distinction between sovereign immunity, and absolute immunity.
After he began to receive death threats and became the object of scorn not just to his fellow lawyers, but to just about every other American with a pulse, Pinsky withdrew the claim. He did not say whether he will bring an action in the Superior Court. One needs no permission from the Claims Commission, after all, to bring an action against a municipality.
The CTLA’s attack on Pinsky was directed not at his having chosen the wrong forum, but that he chose the fight at all. “CTLA joins with all other citizens in Connecticut in mourning the tragic loss of life in Newtown,” the group said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the timing and circumstances of this action are ill-advised.”
I wouldn’t be surprised in the months and years to come to see favored sons and daughters of CTLA raising legal claims on behalf of both victims and survivors of the Newtown massacre. The personal injury bar is drawn to human tragedy and suffering with much the same intense sense of inevitability as leads a bee to seek pollen.
I have a sneaking suspicion that CTLA target Pinsky because he is, well, Irving Pinsky. The New Haven lawyer is a larger than life character, almost someone torn from the pages of a piece of Philip Roth fiction. You can find Pinsky many mornings on the New Haven Green; nearby, you’ll find a beat up old van of his equipped with a floating marquis advertising his services. The white-shoed among the bar are no doubt offended by Pinsky’s mere presence in the marketplace of human suffering. But how many CTLA members are guilty of sins just like Pinksy’s? Did he write that he sought $100 million, a headline-grabbing sum, in his papers to the Claim Commission? Yes. Tell me, truly, ye CTLA titans, how many of you have never spiced up an ad damnum clause in a complaint to catch the world’s eye?
And will CTLA members foreswear any premises liabilities claims in Newtown? There are reports that despite a policy of locking all classrooms in the event of an emergency, not all teachers were trained in the policy. I wonder how many investigators are out there, funded by CTLA members, looking for an edge in this the worst of all calamities to hit Connecticut?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not supporting Pinsky. I’m simply noting that when those who stirred CTLA’s pot decided to call Pinsky black, they took pandering to a whole new level. And that, my friends, stinks.