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WGRZ Interviews Barry Covert on Notice of Claim Against Erie County by Storm Victim’s Family

The family of Donald Abate, one of the 13 people who died as a result of the November 2014 snowstorm that overwhelmed parts of Western New York for several days, has filed a notice of claim against the county. The claim states county emergency crews neglected pleas for help from Mr. Abate, who was stranded in his car in Alden, and from Mr. Abate’s family. Mr. Abate had pulled over due to the hazardous road conditions caused by the storm. He and his family contacted AAA, 911, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, and the New York State Police for emergency assistance. AAA attempted to respond to the calls but was prevented from reaching Mr. Abate by sheriff’s or state police officers.

WGRZ spoke with Barry Covert, a noted Buffalo criminal defense attorney, about the family’s notice of claim. Click here for the full interview.

Sound arguments on both sides

The notice of claim reserves the family's right to file a lawsuit in the future. The family is seeking damages, claiming crews knew the danger of the situation but failed to assist Mr. Abate. The family has not specified an amount of damages it seeks.

Mr. Covert said, “From the plaintiff's side and their point of view, they've got some strong arguments saying that had quick action been taken, that he would still be alive and that the county can't say they weren't aware of this because the family did call."

But he also notes that, in this case, the county has a strong argument as well. “We can absolutely assume if it's true that they turned away the AAA vehicle,” he said, “that they will absolutely say ‘we thought it was very unsafe for that vehicle to enter that area, we thought it was unsafe for our own emergency vehicles to go into that area.’”

A claim against the state also likely

According to the WGRZ report, the Abate family has also filed a notice of intention to file a claim against New York State, maintaining that state police and the state department of transportation could be at fault for not closing the road fast enough. The family's attorney issued a statement saying they will continue to investigate what happened to Mr. Abate, including fighting to get records from the state police and the medical examiner.

A member of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Covert focuses his practice on New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; constitutional law, including First Amendment, Second Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct, scientific fraud, research misconduct, research fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and defense of professional licensing, including for attorneys, doctors, and nurses.

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