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Pain and Suffering Awards Increased on Appeal for Man Run Over by SUV

Posted in Neck Injuries

On May 26, 2010 Marshall Starkman was sunbathing on a beach chair when a City of Long Beach police officer struck him while driving his SUV patrol car. Mr. Starkman, then 43 years old, was thrown off his chair, flipped onto his stomach and then the vehicle ran over his back.

Photo of Beach from Newsday article

In the ensuing lawsuit against the City of Long Beach and the police officer, plaintiff was granted summary judgment as to liability and the matter proceeded to a trial on damages only.

After a month long trial with 24 witnesses, on February 14, 2014, a Nassau County jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $1,250,000 ($500,000 past – 4 1/2 years, $750,000 future – 30 years). Plaintiff challenged the award as inadequate but the trial judge denied the post-trial motion.

In Starkman v. City of Long Beach (2d Dept. 2017), the appellate court agreed with plaintiff that the award was inadequate and increased the pain and suffering damages to $2,250,000 ($750,000 past, $1,500,000 future).

As set forth in the appellate court decision, plaintiff sustained fractures of transverse processes of three vertebrae and underwent two spinal surgeries.

spine anatomy 2

Here are the injury details:

  • found face down in sand with tire tracks on back; taken by helicopter to hospital; diagnosed with fractures of C-6, C-7 and T-1 transverse processes and three ribs as well as atrial fibrillation and heart contusions; admitted for three days
  • herniated cervical discs and radiculopathy treated initially with physical therapy and pain management (including injections and medication)
  • surgery #1 on 10/5/11 – three level anterior cervical fusion at C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7 with decompression, bone graft and insertion of plate and eight screws
  • non-union of each of the three levels operated on
  • surgery #2 on 2/8/13 – posterior spinal fusion of the C4-5 and C6-7 levels with additional screws
  • heart contusion, premature contractions, ventricular atrial fibrillation and, on 8/2/12, ablation surgery; 70% chance of heart attack (compared to 15% for an otherwise healthy man)
  • permanent 40% loss of range of motion of neck with chronic pain requiring extensive medication
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction
  • unable to return to work, drive or engage in any athletic activities; spends most days at home sleeping, watching television or in some other sedentary activity

The defendants argued that according to imaging studies, plaintiff had long-standing degenerative cervical disc disease, did not need the surgeries he underwent, did not have PTSD and could return to work.

The jury also awarded plaintiff $300,000 for medical expenses ($100,000 past, $200,000 future – 18 years) and $650,000 for loss of earnings ($200,000 past, $450,000 future – 14 years).

Plaintiff had been employed as a store manager at T-Mobile earning about $79,000 a year. He never returned to work and his expert vocational rehabilitation counselor, Charles Kincaid, Ph.D. opined that he never would. To the contrary, defendants’ expert vocational rehabilitation counselor, Beth Greenbaum, Ph.D., opined that there are several jobs, such as sales manager and human resource manager, that plaintiff could perform and which would pay him more than $100,000 a year.

Inside Information:

  • In his summation, defendants’ attorney did not recommend a damages amount but he did suggest that plaintiff was exaggerating his injuries and disabilities; plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $11,500,000 for pain and suffering damages.
  • The judge charged the jury that according to statistical tables, plaintiff’s life expectancy was 30 years and his work life expectancy 22 years. While the pain and suffering award was for 30 years, the future loss of earnings award was for only 14 years (and the future medical expenses award was for 18 years).
  • Mr. Starkman loved to work and had never missed a single day of work in his life.
  • There was no spousal loss of consortium claim. Plaintiff and his wife had been together since 1991 and married in 1997. By 1999, though, they entered into a separation agreement and separated for a year. They were divorced in 2009 but remarried after the accident.