Author Archives: Paul Napoli

Lead Poisoning Remains a Health Threat to Children

Lead Poisoning Test

Lead has been a known toxin for decades: it was banned from paint in 1978 and from gasoline in 1996. However, lead still has numerous commercial uses, including in car batteries, pigments, ammunition, weights, and radiation protection—and in pipes used to carry drinking water. That can lead to significant harm from industrial pollution; and with between 9.7 million and 12.8 million pipes containing lead in the US, lead poisoning from the water supply is still a very real concern.

Probably the most well-known example of widespread lead poisoning in recent years occurred in Flint, MI, where the city opted to draw its water from a polluted river instead of the Detroit water utility, sending toxic water into the city’s homes. After the crisis garnered widespread media attention, investigations lead to criminal indictments of municipal and state employees, and a lawsuit ended in a settlement of over $600 million.

But Flint is hardly the only example. In Benton Harbor, MI, another majority-black municipality, widespread lead poisoning came from the water pipes still used by the city—and was only discovered in 2018 after the Rev. Edward Pinkney noticed discoloration in residents’ water and raised the alarm. Even now, four years later, the city is just beginning to award contracts to replace the pipes, and residents are relying on bottled water brought in by volunteers from Indiana.

Lead also poses an occupational risk, especially for workers at smelters such as the Gopher Resources facility in Tampa, FL, where lead-laced dust has poisoned hundreds of employees. Even though the risk of lead poisoning was well known, workers were not provided adequate protective gear—or, in many cases, even told that the dust blowing through the factory contained lead.  

The effects of lead poisoning are most acute in children, who can experience behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. Lead can also accumulate in the body over time, posing a risk to unborn children whose mothers are exposed before or during their pregnancy. In adults, lead poisoning can have cardiovascular effects, such as increased blood pressure and hypertension; it can decrease kidney function; and it can create reproductive problems.

While local, state, and federal governments are mostly committed to protecting the population from lead poisoning, history tells us that real remediation only happens when media attention and lawsuits put pressure on authorities to act. If you have been exposed to lead at work, in your drinking water, or as a result of industrial pollution, you should consult a qualified attorney to pursue relief for yourself and others who may be experiencing the same effects.

Why We are a National Litigation Firm

For the partners at Napoli Shkolnik, living and working within New York State, without maintaining a nationwide presence, would certainly provide plenty of work. This is a global business and financial center with a statewide population of 19.5 million, and if it were a nation New York would have the 10th largest economy in the world. The issues causing the most harm in the United States – civil rights violations, medical and product safety issues, and the opioid crisis – aren’t contained to any particular state. They’re nationwide problems, and it requires a nationwide firm to represent victims effectively.

Taking this stance has given us the opportunity to bring our expertise and spirit to important cases inside and outside New York, like representing the citizens of Flynt, MI, after the city switched to a cheaper water source, even though they knew it would be toxic, or representing county and city governments struggling with the resource-drain of widespread opioid addiction. We’ve also been able to represent clients across the country in products liability suits and civil rights litigation—such as suing Johnson & Johnson for racially motivated marketing of dangerous talcum products.

Having a nationwide footprint also gives us the strength to take on formidable opponents. That’s been the case in opioid litigation: pharmaceutical companies, with their endless resources, fight a war of attrition in the courts, and without a deep bench of personnel and the ability to work concurrently in different jurisdictions, we’d have a hard time winning for our clients. It’s also been true in the many cases where we’ve fought for plaintiffs who have no money for lawyers. Those are the ones that matter the most to us, and it’s our nationwide reach that’s allowed us to notch victories.

In many cases, being a nationwide firm has also allowed us to bring the power and profile of a New York law firm to cases that might not otherwise get the attention or legal expertise we can provide. That’s true of environmental law cases in less developed states; it’s true of our practice in Puerto Rico; and it’s been true of numerous products liability cases over the years. Our access to expert witnesses and legal scholars who can bolster our theories has helped us win large settlements—and more importantly deliver much-needed relief to victims.

Finally, a nationwide footprint gives us an opportunity to learn about cases we otherwise might not. We pride ourselves on our lawyers’ ability to assess the viability of a case and lay out options for a plaintiff, often in the first conversation they have. And when those conversations reveal significant harms, we pride ourselves even more on our ability to deliver meaningful results.

Civil Rights Litigation: Why it Matters

Civil rights litigation plays three indispensable roles in the ongoing pursuit of a better, more just and equal society: first, it presents a way to overcome injustice where legislation lags; second, it informs the process of passing meaningful legislation to reform the policies and social norms that deprive Americans of their civil rights; and third, it provides a civil means of ensuring that powerful organizations follow the laws once they are on the books.

In 1976, Abram Chayes introduced a radical new concept in civil law—the idea that the victims of systemic injustice could create change through “public law litigation.” Before that, civil law was largely limited to moderating conflicts between two parties, but Chayes argued that those whose civil rights had been violated through social or institutional injustice could sue for systemic change. Since then, civil rights litigation has been able to succeed even where the law is vague, driving significant reform ranging from the end of orchestrated school prayer to the dismantling of legal apartheid.

Beyond winning victories in court, civil rights litigation also clarifies the nature of injustice, raises awareness among politicians and the public, and helps to inform the legislative process. This is an essential part of the American system: the United States Constitution gives the judicial broad power to “check and balance” the legislative and executive branches. And in dozens of landmark cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona, civil litigation has led to better laws and a fairer system.

Finally, most civil rights laws are civil in nature. Anti-discrimination laws, for example, create a standard by which a plaintiff can sue for damages, but they do not impose criminal penalties for those who violate them. (That is, an employee who loses out on a promotion because of her race can sue for the wages she lost through discrimination, but her manager won’t face criminal charges.) That leaves civil rights litigation as the primary means for enforcing those laws. From the swath of lawsuits challenging police departments’ use-of-force guidelines to litigation protecting women of color from potentially cancerous talcum powder, civil rights litigators ensure that those who violate civil rights laws pay a price.

However, systemic violations of civil rights are often nuanced, making civil rights cases challenging. If your civil rights have been violated, working with a qualified lawyer to assess your potential suit and the damages you may be able to recover is an essential first step.

The Importance of Environmental Law to American Citizens

Young girl getting water from a tap

In the 1970s, the United States passed three major pieces of legislation which, together, make up the foundation of American environmental law: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. The urgency to pass all of these acts stemmed from the fact that building at a massive scale and industrial production had wreaked havoc on the environment—with disastrous implications for public health and the future. At its most basic level, the practice of Environmental Law involves protecting the American people from the environmental impacts these and other subsequent laws were enacted to prevent.

One of the challenges of effective environmental policy in the United States is the means of enforcement. Environmental laws are enforced by agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency), which have broad powers to study and investigate environmental impacts and punish those responsible, but which are not always able to exercise those powers effectively. 

The problem is that those powers—and the policies the EPA and other agencies pursue—are often limited by politics, by funding and staff levels, and by a philosophy of encouraging companies to remediate environmental damage over time rather than slapping them with crippling punishments. That means that many cases of severe pollution go undiscovered, sometimes for decades. In a recent Propublica series, for example, investigative reporters looked at air and water pollution in the American Southeast and discovered that in rural parts of the country polluters routinely violate emissions standards and their regulations with little or no penalty. 

That’s where environmental lawyers come in. If you’ve been impacted by toxins or pollutants in your environment, calling the EPA is a reasonable first step. But it’s not one that’s likely to lead to a speedy resolution, relief for the damages you’ve experienced, or meaningful change. That comes through environmental lawyers bringing legal action against the individuals, companies, and even government agencies that adversely impact the air, water, and land we all share.

 What the Arlo Hotel Racist Incident Illustrates

man leaving hotel lobby with suitcase - racist attack at arlo hotel

In December 2020, footage went viral showing 23-year-old Mary Ponsetto attacking 15-year-old Keyon Harrold Jr. in the lobby of New York’s Arlo Hotel because she believed he’d stolen her cell phone. (In reality, she’d left it in an Uber.) In the video, a hotel employee seems to take Ms. Ponsetto’s side, demanding that Mr. Harrold Jr. turn over his phone to prove it isn’t stolen rather than stopping her from making what are clearly aggressive and racially motivated accusations. Now, Ms. Ponsetto has pled guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the second degree as a hate crime, and the Harrold family is suing her and the Arlo Hotel over the attack.

The most obvious issue that the event illustrates is that racial bias still triggers false accusations of criminality toward black Americans, in varying degrees. When Ms. Ponsetto couldn’t find her phone, it seemed perfectly rational to her that the young black man in the hotel lobby with her must have taken it. When she told a hotel employee he’d stolen her phone, it seemed perfectly natural to the employee to take her accusation seriously and to assume that the young man—a hotel guest, who was just using his phone in the lobby—must be a criminal. In this regard, it’s a reminder: racial bias is both pervasive and systemic, and we all have an obligation to right the wrongs that it causes.

The second, perhaps more hopeful, issue that it illustrates is that things are changing. When there is evidence (in this case cell phone footage taken by Mr. Harrold Jr.’s father and security footage from the lobby cameras) that an attack is both unfair and clearly motivated by race, there are consequences. That means that our society is moving in the right direction. Increasingly, racism can’t exist with impunity. We have laws and processes in place to protect the victims of bias, and when they’re put to work, they produce a better form of justice.

However, this incident also illustrates just how critical it is to have ironclad evidence. Without cell phone and security footage, the District Attorney for New York would never have brought charges, and it would have been next to impossible for the Harrolds to pursue a successful lawsuit against Ms. Ponsetto or the hotel. If you’ve been wrongly accused of criminality based on your race, that evidence may exist even if you don’t have cell phone footage, but it is essential to discuss your case with experienced attorneys who can help you find the evidence you need, and who are willing to fight on your behalf.

Paul Napoli Leads Air Pollution Case against Northrop Grumman

Paul Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik is lead counsel in a new federal lawsuit against Grumman, alleging that the company significantly increased cancer risk in the community surrounding its Bethpage, NY, facility by pumping millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into the air over a period stretching from 1950 to 1994. As described in an excellent Newsday article, the suit seeks to establish a medical monitoring fund that would ensure current and former residents have access to the medical care they may need as a result of the pollution’s effects.

Napoli has already been representing over 2,000 plaintiffs in parallel litigation against Northrop Grumman stemming from the contamination of soil and groundwater with a toxic plume around its facility that measures four miles long, two miles wide, and 900 feet deep. It’s through that litigation that Napoli and other plaintiffs’ attorneys discovered information leading them to believe that air pollution may have posed an even greater threat to public health.

Unfortunately, air pollution wasn’t documented during the time Grumman was operating its Bethpage facility. Here, like in many other brownfield sites around the US, the lack of public documentation makes it difficult to quantify the volume of contaminants released into the air and to establish a direct causal link between that pollution and adverse health outcomes. However, when handled by an experienced class action team, it is possible for lawsuits to create change—both benefiting victims who suffer the effects of toxic pollution and encouraging companies to be more careful in their environmental stewardship.

Hiring an Attorney for a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Most people who suffer an injury for which another person or company is responsible don’t file lawsuits. They either make an arrangement for the liable party to take responsibility, or they “suck it up” and go on with their lives. Often, this happens because they don’t understand the legal system and the damages they can seek, or they worry they will have to pay out of pocket for legal fees. The concern about legal fees is especially acute when the defendant will be a business or an insurance company, who can afford a high-powered legal team.

But as this blog post points out, hiring a highly effective personal injury lawyer does not necessarily mean you’ll have to pay the legal costs yourself. Often personal injury lawyers will take a viable case on contingency, meaning they take their fee as a portion of the final settlement.

Because they know liability laws, they also know the kind of damages you can seek. For example, you may sue for ongoing medical bills, which covers the cost of potential treatments of your injury in the future. You may pursue damages for emotional distress if the injury caused you to face other challenges in your life or led to anxiety. Or you may seek compensation for pain and suffering – not just the money you need for medical treatment but the suffering that having the injury causes. Whereas most people understand these concepts only anecdotally, an experienced personal injury attorney knows how to pursue these awards and win.

Statistically, the amounts awarded to those who hire a personal injury lawyer to pursue their injury claim on their behalf are significantly higher than to those who reach a compensation agreement on their own. Speaking to an experienced personal injury lawyer is an important first step in determining the viability of your case and setting yourself up to reach a favorable outcome.

States Attorneys General Support Widespread Antitrust Reform

In September 2021, the attorneys general of 32 states sent a letter to both houses of Congress supporting six proposed bills that together provide new tools for pursuing antitrust violations and would increase the role that states can play in enforcement actions. In particular, the bipartisan cadre of AGs support more authority in actions that would typically be handled at a federal level and enhanced ability to initiate antitrust cases at the state level.

The bills largely target the technology industry, where rapid and dynamic expansion can lead to anticompetitive behavior that is not well handled by current antitrust laws. Because those laws have not been substantially overhauled since the rise of tech-industry behemoths in the 1990s and 2000s, they tend to be inadequate to address the way a platform such as Facebook can take ownership of an entire sector, and maintain dominance through acquisitions and preferencing its own services. The new rules that the state attorneys general support would specifically address anticompetitive behavior by technology companies, making those cases easier to pursue.

The AGs’ support for these rules may be a harbinger of a more aggressive posture toward antitrust violations at the state level. While these cases tend to be multijurisdictional and, consequently, led by the federal government, many state attorneys general believe that federal enforcement has been inadequate and that state-led antitrust cases will result in better outcomes.

This article provides greater insight into the six bills supported by the state attorneys’ general, led by Phil Wiser (CO), Douglas Peterson (NE), Letitia James (NY), and Herbert H. Slattery III (TN).

Safety Issues Invigorate Scrutiny of Rikers Island

Safety concerns at Rikers Island, an aging maximum-security prison in New York, are not new. The facility is now under federal supervision, and Mayor Bill DeBlasio promised to close it entirely. However, now that the mayor’s office is instead opening new sections of Rikers Island, prisoners’ rights advocates and Democrats are objecting on the grounds that the prison is not safe for inmates.

When a person is incarcerated, the prison that takes custody of that person has a duty of care. Simply put, the prison must ensure that inmates are not injured or sickened because of negligence, a failure to maintain a safe physical structure, or the actions of prison staff. For years, Riker’s Island has had an abysmal record in all three areas, contributing to numerous injuries and failing to protect prisoners from themselves and others.

Because of this, inmates and their families may have grounds to seek compensation for the prison’s negligence. For example, the federal supervisor recently criticized the prison’s staff training because guards failed to adequately watch a prisoner who then attempted suicide. If that prisoner had died, his family could sue because the staff failed to follow procedures that call for observation of inmates to prevent suicide attempts. The procedures would establish a standard of care, and the failure to meet that standard would constitute negligence.

As the debate over Rikers Island’s future continues, more inmates, former inmates, and inmates’ families will likely pursue legal action against the prison. This article explores the prison’s duties in greater detail. 

Injured Rikers Island inmates deserve compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC

Injured Construction Workers Often Don’t Know Their Rights

Working in the construction industry is risky. Especially in urban areas, construction workers often work at heights that could cause serious injury or death in the event of a fall; they often perform work with dangerous, heavy machinery; and they are often exposed to airborne chemicals, dust, and debris that can be harmful if proper protective equipment is not worn. Employers are required to ensure that their workers have a safe workplace, but the nature of construction work still leads to thousands of serious injuries every year.

Workplace accidents are covered under workers compensation insurance. However, an employer may be liable in some states if dangerous conditions persist unmitigated after they have been reported, if employees are pressured to perform especially risky work, if protective equipment is not provided, or if a safety policy is not established and enforced. Often, workers who are injured do not know their rights – or the full extent of their rights – and therefore do not receive all the benefits they are entitled to. It is critical that injured workers consult with an attorney who can connect them with resources for immediate help and who can ensure that they receive all the compensation they deserve.

If you or a loved one has been injured at a construction site, watch this short video and contact Napoli Shkolnik to discuss your case with an experienced attorney.