New York Post July 11, 1999 • Edward Lauer's little boy is long buried, his wife remarried, his happiness a distant memory.
He can never get them back. But the bumbling government that ruined his life can be made to pay.
Last week, a state appeals court ruled that the 51-year-old subway motorman from Queens has the right to sue the city for hounding him as the main suspect in his son's death – hounding him for almost two years after police should have been told the boy had died of natural causes.
His $60 million suit will go forward. But money cannot make up for what happened to him.
Lauer and his wife, Lisa, brought their 3-year-old son, Andrew, to St. John's Queens Hospital on Aug. 6, 1993, because the boy was suffering from dry heaves and nausea.
The doctors decided the boy was going to be fine and sent him home, Edward Lauer said in a court petition filed with his suit.
"The following day, Aug. 7, 1993, my wife and I awoke to find little Andrew in my bedroom unresponsive," Lauer said.
"To our horror, our only son, Andrew James Lauer, had died."
The medical examiner performed an autopsy the next day and issued a death certificate listing as the immediate cause of death "blunt injuries of neck and brain" – homicide.
The police were notified. They spent 12 hours interrogating Edward Lauer while he grieved over his lost child. They went to his son's funeral.
"Detectives ... obviously attempting to force loved ones to turn against me, appeared at the funeral home and stood at my son's bier informing members of my family and friends that I had murdered my little boy," Lauer said.
His hell deepened
People in his Maspeth neighborhood shouted at him, spat at him, and called him a baby-killer, said Lauer's lawyer, Peter Johnson Jr., of the firm Leahey and Johnson.
Lisa Lauer, relentlessly peppered by cops for more information about her husband, began believing the worst.
Their marriage, strained by finding Andrew's lifeless little body in their bedroom, finally broke. They divorced.
Both moved away. Edward was still a suspect.
No one told him or the cops that a month after Andrew Lauer's death in 1993 Medical Examiner Dr. Eddy Lilavois performed a more thorough autopsy and determined that Andrew had died of a brain aneurysm.
"Manner of Death: Natural," reads the conclusion of Lilavois' amended report.
It wasn't until the spring of 1995 that the medical examiner's office admitted it had made a horrible mistake. Lilavois resigned.
When the police found out there was no homicide, the investigation was halted – but the damage had already been done.
Edward Lauer decided to sue the city.
The city argued that it was not liable for the mistake, that the government cannot be sued for failing to perform a function that is discretionary.
The same law holds that a crime victim does not have the right to sue the city for not stationing enough cops on the corner where the crime occurred.
"This is a very tragic set of circumstances that the city deeply regrets," city lawyer Julian Kalkstein said. "But the city believes that the law does not provide Mr. Lauer a remedy."
In a 3-2 decision published last week, judges in the state Appellate Division disagreed, ruling that Lauer can pursue his case against the city, a decision that Kalkstein says the city may appeal.
Johnson said that if the city doesn't reach an out-of-court settlement with Lauer for the emotional distress he suffered, it could be three years before the case is decided.
Lisa, now 32, has remarried. She lives in New Jersey with her new husband. And the new baby boy she gave birth to a year ago.