Knock Knock

Article by Scott Brede, The Connecticut Law Tribune

George J. Cahill, Jr. of New Haven's Cahill, & DiPersia is the first to admit that Metro-North Commuter Railroad claims agents don't exactly relish his visits.

After all, their face-to-face dealings with his firm tend to carry a certain message: Pay up and pay up now. And watching a sheriff seize a commuter train on the spot -- yes, it's been done before -- is hardly Metro-North's idea of an enjoyable afternoon. Still their latest encounter left even Cahill a bit shocked, he says.

"I don't know what they thought they could accomplish by locking their doors and hiding inside," says Cahill.

Along with partner and a trusty deputy sheriff, Cahill went Nov. 13 to Metro-North's claims office at New Haven's rail station. The purpose of the visit was to collect a $59,000 jury verdict awarded in July to James Sorrentino, an injured Metro-North engineer the firm represented.

Claims officials apparently spotted Cahill and deputy sheriff Ronald Mangano as they crossed the street to the train station, Cahill says. When the trio reached the claims office, the door was locked. Other Metro-North employees told them the claims agents were in the office, but nobody responded to their knocking.

The standoff ended nearly three hours later when Metro-North officials finally agreed to let Mangano serve them a writ of execution.

Cahill says he knew the claims agents couldn't hold out forever. The nearest bathroom is down the hall from their office, and "eventually nature would have to call," he says.

Still, he's not quite sure what led them to unlock the door, and Metro-North defense counsel John A. Blazi, a Waterbury solo, declines to comment on the matter.

During a 1993 payment dispute, and another deputy sheriff commandeered a Metro-North train just before it prepared to leave for New York. Not so on Nov. 13. Cahill says he left the station that evening with only a promise to receive a check the next day for the full amount of the award plus a sheriff's fee of nearly $6,000.

The check came a day late -- and only after Cahill threatened to have Mangano seize about a half-dozen motor vehicles used by Metro-North supervisors, he says.

His strong arm tactics, Cahill adds, became necessary after months of nagging Metro-North to fork over the amount due Sorrentino.

Following the verdict, the company unsuccessfully sought to deduct from the judgment the portion of Sorrentino's medical expenses that it incurred, he says.

Metro-North later sent Cahill about $14,000 subtracting the sick pay Sorrentino collected while recuperating from his injury, Cahill says. A judge denied that "novel" attempt to reduce payment, he adds.

By October, "it was apparent they were not going to pay the full judgment." That, Cahill says, is when he gave Metro-North an ultimatum: Pay up by Nov. 13 or prepare for a sheriff's visit. The company chose the latter.