NY Port Authority Faces $100M Suit Over Bridge Suicide

MANHATTAN (CN) – The parents of a young jazz singer who jumped to her death off the George Washington Bridge last year brought a $100 million lawsuit against the Port Authority for not installing enough protective barriers on the “suicide magnet” structure.

Represented by attorney William Costigan, the parents of Lael Feldman filed a complaint Tuesday in New York County Supreme Court against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey stemming from their 24-year old daughter’s July 2017 suicidal jump from the south walkway of the bridge, 25 stories above the Hudson River.

Isaac Feldman and Marla Mase claim the Port Authority “failed to exercise reasonable care in constructing, operating, and maintaining the George Washington Bridge, [which] lacked adequate means restriction to prevent jumping suicides from its walkways.”

The parents seek $20 million in damages for each of four causes of action and an additional $20 million in punitive damages, totaling $100 million. They assert two claims each of deliberate indifference and negligence.

According to news reports at the time of her death, Feldman had made prior suicide attempts, suffered from years of depression and “couldn’t handle the harshness of this world,” her family said.

She sang in New York City jazz clubs, including the Blue Note, under the name Lael Summer. She was co-managed by her mother and Tomás Doncker, a veteran of the 1980s downtown scene who played guitar in acts such as Defunkt and James Chance & the Contortions.

The seven-page complaint cites other prominent bridges that installed suicide prevention barriers years earlier, including Washington D.C.’s Duke Ellington Bridge in 1986 and Bristol, England’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1998.

Despite the George Washington Bridge’s longtime reputation as a “suicide magnet” averaging one suicide attempt every three and half days in 2016, the Port Authority did not begin to install suicide prevention fencing until September 2017, “notwithstanding that it was entirely feasible to do so many years before,” according to the complaint.

Last year, the Port Authority installed an 11-foot fence connected to netting that forms a canopy over the pathway beyond the traffic lanes. Before that, the only barrier along the walkway was a barricade-high railing.

The double-decked suspension bridge spans the Hudson River between the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City and the borough of Fort Lee in New Jersey.

Representatives for the Port Authority declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Seventy people were saved from jumping by Port Authority officers in 2016, down from 86 people pulled to safety in 2015, according to the authority.

The George Washington Bridge’s first suicide reportedly occurred just one week after its October 1931 opening.

In April, the same attorney who filed Tuesday’s lawsuit, Costigan, represented the widow of a prominent New Jersey architect who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, suing Port Authority for $100 million for failing to safeguard the walkway, nearly nine months after her husband committed suicide.

This month, the Port Authority filed a motion to dismiss the earlier suit, arguing that the claims “cannot be sustained under New York law because there is no duty that can be imposed upon a governmental entity for the alleged failure to prevent a suicide absent a special relationship, which did not exist here.”

Costigan declined to comment on either case.

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