A resident of Staten Island's New Dorp Beach neighborhood carries a basket full of clothes and other items on her street that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
When Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States on Oct. 29, it didn’t take lawyers in New York long to organize a way to help victims of the superstorm with an expanding range of legal issues.
Bar associations in the state as well as some of the biggest law firms in New York are recruiting attorneys to offer pro bono legal assistance to New Yorkers whose lives and property were devastated by the storm – the second most destructive Atlantic hurricane after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Superstorm, Super Destruction
Hurricane Sandy, which morphed into a so-called superstorm after making landfall at the New Jersey shore, left a path of destruction over 1,500 miles wide along the eastern Seaboard of the country. Some of the worst damage was done in New York; Gov. Andrew Cuomo had declared a state of emergency even before the storm hit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared seven counties in New York Major Disaster areas on Oct. 30, and estimates of economic damage alone have topped $50 billion. Areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Westchester County are still struggling with loss of power, heat and water. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, over 355,000 people in New York alone were still without power on Nov. 6.
Aside from the sheer loss of property due to flooding and hurricane-force winds, storm victims – especially those with fewer resources to begin with – have been faced with no mail, phone, or Internet service, and thus have no way to communicate about legal issues that were either ongoing or occurred after the storm.
Organizations like Red Hook Initiative and Occupy Sandy have offered assistance with those basic communication needs, as well as many others, in some of the hardest-hit areas.
Legal Issues Abound
Legal issues abound in such a disaster, including everything from insurance filings to health care budgeting, and from employment problems to voting rights violations.
Replacing public benefits, disaster unemployment insurance, FEMA, foreclosure, and insurance denials are likely problems faced by Sandy survivors, according to the New York City Bar.
Through the NYSBA’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service, New York lawyers are offering up to three ways to help storm victims with those and other legal problems:
providing a free initial consultation by phone to hurricane victims and their families
providing further representation for free for a certain number of clients referred through the program
furnishing mentor assistance for attorney volunteers who are providing free advice through the program
“Volunteer attorneys will answer storm-related questions about insurance, real estate issues (landlord-tenant and other property disputes) and general legal matters, such as replacing missing wills and other documents,” according to the NYSBA, which announced the program on Nov. 6.
Storm victims can call the NYSBA hotline at 800-699-5636 to get connected with a volunteer attorney.
Big Law Pitches In
Law firms based or operating in Manhattan have also rushed to offer the pro bono services of their lawyers, and the American Bar Association and the New York City Bar are offering legal help as well.
AmLaw Daily reports that at least ten of the biggest firms in the city have pledged to help, either through making direct donations to relief efforts, matching employee donations or offering pro bono legal services.
If you need legal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, contact any of the organizations mentioned in this story through their links.