Natural disasters, such as the recent blizzard that struck New York, may cause damage to real property that takes months or years to remedy. Even after the physical damage to property has been repaired, there may still be issues that need to be sorted out in court. For example, if property damaged in a storm is not repaired in a timely fashion, angry tenants may sue their landlords.
Class Action Accuses Landlords of Negligence in Preparing for Flood Waters
Here is an example from a class action now pending before Manhattan Supreme Court. All New Yorkers will remember that in October 2012 Hurricane Sandy—dubbed “Superstorm Sandy” by the media—struck New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and surrounding areas. Nearly 50 New York City residents were killed due to the storm, and the resulting damage cost the United States nearly $75 billion.
At a pair of high-rise buildings in Manhattan, flooding from Hurricane Sandy “entered the basement and parking garage of the Premises causing significant damage to the mechanical and electrical systems.” According to the buildings' commercial and residential tenants, 20,000 gallons of heating oil stored in the buildings “was released into the flood waters,” producing toxic fumes and rendering the property completely uninhabitable for at least a month. A group of tenants filed a class action against the owners of the buildings, alleging negligence for “failing to prepare and protect” the premises, and “breach of warranty of habitability.”
Manhattan Supreme Court certified the class in January of this year. This was not a ruling on the merits of the tenants' claim. Rather, it was a finding that the legal interests of the aggrieved tenants are sufficiently related such that it makes sense to try their claims as a single case. As the judge explained in this case, “Plaintiffs have established common questions of law or fact from negligence and the defendants alleged failure to mitigate damages which predominates over the differences between the tenants and their potential damages.”
It should be noted this is just one of many class actions arising from Hurricane Sandy. In addition to lawsuits against property owners like the one discussed above, there have been several class actions filed against insurance companies over delayed or incomplete payouts to hurricane victims. For instance, at least three class actions have been filed accusing insurers of “manipulating” data in order to improperly refuse policyholders' claims.