Dean Robinson was playing in a pick-up basketball game at P.S. 89 in the Bronx on May 5, 2006. The 14 year old made a clap lay-up (a show-off move in which one releases the ball towards the basket and simultaneously claps or slaps the backboard with his shooting hand). That was likely the last one he’ll ever attempt.
The momentum from slamming his hand against the backboard propelled Dean forward and as he came down his right middle finger got caught on a metal cage on the wall that was covering an emergency light fixture a foot behind and below the backboard. As he came down, Dean’s fingertip was traumatically amputated.
The fingertip is the portion of the digit distal to the insertion of the flexor and extensor tendons on the distal phalanx:
Rushed by ambulance to Montefiore Hospital, Dean underwent thenar flap surgery in which the top of his injured finger was implanted in his palm to regenerate tissue. Two weeks later, he underwent a second surgery to divide the finger from his palm.
In his ensuing lawsuit, Dean claimed that the school was liable for his injuries because the cage should not have been placed so close to the basket.
On April 23, 2010, a Bronx County jury ruled that the defendant was fully at fault and rejected arguments that plaintiff assumed the risk of his injury or that it bore no responsibility becasue the hazard was open and obvious.
The same jurors then awarded plaintiff $868,000 for pain and suffering damages ($268,000 past – 4 years, $600,000 future – 40 years).
In Robinson v. New York City Dept. of Education (1st Dept. 2012), the liability verdict has now been upheld but the pain and suffering damages award has been slashed to $300,000 ($125,000 past, $175,000 future) – a $568,000 reduction.
As noted in the decision, Dean lost the tip of the middle finger on his dominant hand (about one inch), resulting in sensitivity and a 25% disability of the hand. By the time of trial, Dean had resumed playing basketball, frequently though not as well as before.
- The jury also awarded and the appellate court sustained $132,000 for the future costs of a prosthetic finger and a dozen or so lifetime replacements.
- In closing arguments, defense counsel suggested that becasue a prosthesis would significantly increase functionality, reduce sensitivity and increase plaintiff’s self-image, "the Department of Education has no problem paying for the prosthetic."
- In arguing the appeal, both parties referred to our prior article on hand injuries, here.
- In a 1982 article in The Journal of Hand Surgery, 183 surgeons who had lost parts of their hands were surveyed. Only three claimed any significant professional disability and the author’s conclusion was that motivation of the patient is more important to hand function than the actual number of digits.