Meghan Hopkins, a 22 year old graphic designer from Ohio, was visiting her boyfriend in New York City on July 31, 2006 when she tripped and fell on a defective walkway at the 14th Street subway station.
Meghan sustained a severe ankle fracture and sued the New York City Transit Authority claiming that the walkway was defective and unsafe (the concrete floor was cracked and raised) and that the defendant should have repaired it before the accident. On September 10, 2009, a Manhattan jury found the defendant 100% at fault.
The jury then assessed plaintiff’s pain and suffering damages and awarded her $625,000 ($350,000 past – 3 years, $275,000 future – 55 years).
In Hopkins v. New York City Tr. Auth. (1st Dept. 2011) the entire $625,000 award has been upheld by the appellate court which rejected the defense claim that the award was excessive.
As noted in the court’s decision, plaintiff sustained a trimalleolar fracture and had to undergo two surgeries:
- an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) with two metal plates, two long pins and eight screws to secure the plates
- removal of the hardware almost three years later
Ms. Hopkins testified that she continued to have trouble with stairs, lifting heavy objects and driving, has pain if she walks too much and can no longer run or engage in any sports.
Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon testified that three years post-accident she already had signs of early post-traumatic arthritis and that her prognosis is poor. It’s likely, he said, that Meghan will develop arthritis and then she’ll need more surgery (such as an ankle fusion).
The main case cited by the court in Hopkins is Ruiz v. Hart Elm Corp. (2d Dept. 2007), in which $900,000 was affirmed for a 22 year old woman with severe bimalleolar fractures and obliterated ligaments resulting in three surgeries (ORIF and two hardware removals) and the inability to upwardly flex her foot because her tibia and fibula were fusing together. That case appears to have involved significantly more serious injuries than those sustained by Meghan Hopkins.
Nor are any of the other three cases cited by the court in Hopkins very relevant:
- Colon v. New York Eye Surgery Assoc. (1st Dept. 2010), previously analyzed by us, here – $950,000 affirmed for a 49 year old woman with an avulsion fracture of her tibia without surgery but with RSD.
- Rydell v. Pan Am Equities (1st Dept. 1999) – $500,000 affirmed for a woman with a severely fractured ankle with ORIF, hardware removal and symptoms of the onset of arthritis. This seems at first glance quite relevant but it’s more than 10 years old and there is no readily available information about the age of the plaintiff or the precise nature of her fracture.
- So v. Wing Tat Realty (1st Dept 1999) – $600,000 affirmed for a 25 year old woman with an ankle fracture, torn ligament, ORIF, hardware removal and traumatic arthritis. Again, this case is more than 10 years old and there’s no information provided about the nature of plaintiff’s fracture.
The evaluation of trimalleolar fracture pain and suffering cases has come before our appellate courts with some frequency and we’ve discussed them before, for example, here and here.
The award of $625,000 for Ms. Hopkins appears to be at the higher end of typical trimalleolar cases resolved on appeal in view of the following recent decisions:
- Ryals v. New York City Tr. Auth. (1st Dept. 2010) – $400,000 affirmed for a 37 year old in a case sent back for a retrial on liability apportionment [previously discussed by us, here]
- Fishbane v. Chelsea Hall, LLC (2d Dept. 2009) – $550,000 reduced from $800,000 for a 69 year old man [previously discussed by us, here]
- Downes v. City of Mt. Vernon (2d Dept. 2009) – $288,000 affirmed for a 66 year old woman [previously discussed by us, here]
- The defense did not call any medical witness to controvert plaintiff’s treating surgeon’s trial testimony.
- There was evidence brought out by the defense on cross-examination that plaintiff had a pre-existing rheumatoid arthritis condition but her treating surgeon did not consider it significant because it involved the autoimmune system and Meghan’s arthritis was post-traumatic.