On June 10, 2003, Romeo Marshall was working as a field technician for Transcore Holdings, Inc., a company that designs, installs and maintains electronic toll collection systems. His job that day was servicing the EZ Pass machines at the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. Unfortunately, while in a truck lane at the toll plaza, Marshall didn’t see a pothole and he fell.

Here is what the toll area looked like:

And this is what the pothole may have looked like on the day of the accident  (Marshall claims it was 4 by 13 inches and 5 inches deep; it was later patched up):

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (the MTA) through its constituent agency, the Triborough Bridges and Tunnels Authority (the TBTA) operates seven NYC bridges (including the Bronx Whitestone) and two tunnels and collects more than $1 billion a year in toll revenues.

Marshall blamed the MTA and the TBTA for his injuries claiming that the pothole was the result of a faulty repair and that the area should have been closed down pending a new repair.

In October 2009, a Bronx County jury found that the area where Marshall fell was unsafe and that the TBTA was 100% at fault.

The jury then assessed damages for the 40 year old Marshall’s injuries:

  • an avulsion fracture of his ankle, initially treated with a hard cast for six weeks
  • arthroscopic surgery to reconstruct his posterior talofibular ligament
  • herniated disc at L4-5 deforming the thecal sac and impinging on the nerve roots and a bulging disc at L5-S1, each with radiating pain

Here is a drawing showing repair of a talofibular ligament [the solid arrow] as well as the calcaneofibular ligament [the open arrow] with the peroneus tendon shown in red and the peroneus longus tendon in yellow:

At trial, plaintiff and his doctor testified that:

  • he still experiences severe ankle pain, swelling and diminshed range of motion as well as low back pain that radiates to his leg
  • he cannot any longer play soccer or football and he has to wear an ankle brace
  • he has traumatic arthritis in his ankle
  • all of his injuries are permanent and will worsen

The jury returned a pain and suffering verdict in the sum of $1,850,000 ($450,000 past – 6 years; $1,400,000 future – 36 years).

The trial judge has now issued his post-trial decision in Marshall v. TBTA holding that the pain and suffering verdict was excessive, to the extent that the future pain and suffering award was more than $800,000. The judge ordered a new trial to be held unless plaintiff stipulates to accept the reduced total pain and suffering award of $1,250,000.

In reducing the future pain and suffering award by $600,000, the judge stated that the ankle injury cases cited by the plaintiff involve injuries more severe than Mr. Marshall’s and that it is overly simplistic, as plaintiff urged, to merely add relevant ankle verdict amounts to relevant spinal verdict amounts to arrive mechanically at a sum of the two.

The judge failed to address specifically the cases cited by the parties and he failed to state why he concluded that $800,000 (instead of $1,400,000) was reasonable for future pain and suffering. The appellate court will likely address these same issues and be faced with the same case precedents (though it’s not at all certain that any more guidance will be given when the appeals court judges issue their decision on this case).

Here are the relevant cases:

  • Keating v. SS&R Management Co. (1st. Dept. 2009) – $1,100,000 ($500,000 past, $600,000 future – 31 years) for a 45 year old woman with fractures of her tibia and fibula requiring six surgeries including open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) leaving her with a permanent large skin flap deformity, the need for new surgery with an external fixation device applied for more than 12 months and unable to work as a legal secretary. Plaintiff in Marshall v. TBTA argued that this recent case supports a future damages award to him of $700,000 just for his ankle injury and that much more should be added for his back injury. The defense, however, argued persuasively that Ms. Keating’s leg injuries were far more extensive than Mr. Marshall’s.
  • Ruiz v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2007) – $300,000 ($100,000 past, $200,000 future – 34 years), reduced from a jury verdict of $1,100,000 ($350,000 past, $750,000 future) for a 46 year old woman with a fractured ankle requiring ORIF surgery who had an uncomplicated recovery but was left unable to walk for long periods of time and with occasional pain treated with over the counter medications. The defense in Marshall v. TBTA urged that the injuries suffered by Ms. Ruiz were quite comparable to those of Mr. Marshall who did not require the more invasive ORIF surgery involving the insertion of a metal plate, and who made a good recovery and requires no more treatment for his ankle or any prescription medication.
  • Sienicki v. 760 West End Avenue Owners, Inc. (1st. Dept. 2005) – $250,000 ($100,000 past, $150,000 future – 10 years), increased from $50,000 ($25,000 past, $25,000 future) for a 46 year old man who sustained severe fractures of his tibia and fibula requiring two surgeries, including a total ankle fusion and was left with a permanent limp, pain and the need to use a cane. Clearly, these ankle injuries far exceeded Mr. Marshall’s.
  • Orellano v. 29 East 37th Street Realty Corp. (1st. Dept. 2004) – $750,000 ($375,000 past, $375,000 future), increased from the trial judge’s post-trial order decreasing the jury verdict of $5,500,000 to $600,000. Mr. Orellano, a 47 year old manual laborer, fractured his distal tibia and fibula first requiring external fixation, then ORIF, two months of hospitalization and a total of four surgeries.

In view of the foregoing cases, I expect the appellate court to reduce Mr. Marshall’s damages award even more than the trial judge did with respect to ankle pain and suffering.

Both sides in Marshall v. TBTA cited cases involving spinal herniations. Plaintiff suggested that an appropriate figure for his back injury should be added to the figure for his ankle injury while the defendant urged that Marshall’s back injury was minor, not caused by the accident (he had no treatment for two years after the accident, only six doctor visits in the next two years and none in the three years before trial) and does not require surgery (despite plaintiffs doctor’s testimony that it is a possibility).

It’s unlikely that the appellate court will evaluate this case as one that merits any significant award for pain and suffering related to plaintiff’s back injury in view of:

  • the lack of significant medical treatment for the back injury
  • the fact that there was no back treatment at all for over two years after the accident
  • the unwillingness of plaintiff’s doctor to state with any degree of medical certainty that Marshall will need future treatment related to his back, no less surgery.

Inside Information:

  • Marshall’s wife presented her own loss of consortium claim, and the jury awarded her $40,000 for the three year period from the date of the accident until she and Mr. Marshall separated and were divorced. The defendant will argue on appeal that nothing at all should have been awarded to the then Mrs. Marshall.
  • The defendant will also argue on appeal that the entire verdict was against the weight of the evidence. This will involve issues such as whether the defect in the road was so trivial that as a matter of law no liability should attach and the extent to which, if at all, the plaintiff should have been charged with comparative negligence (for not seeing what was there to be seen).

We will, of course, follow this case and report back when there’s been an appellate resolution or a settlement.