On November 29, 2004 at about 3:15 p.m., Rashawana Belt was on the sidewalk that abutted the eastbound side of 110th Avenue, near its intersection at Merrick Boulevard, in the Jamaica section of Queens. In a split second, her life would change unalterably when a drunk driver mounted the sidewalk, struck Rashawana and drove her into a wall causing massive injuries to the 22 year old college student.
Cars should not be driven on sidewalks!
After a trial in 2009, Ms. Belt was awarded pain and suffering damages of $15,000,000. Claiming the damages awarded were excessive, the defense successfully appealed and, in Belt v. Girgis (2d Dept. 2011), the appellate court has ordered a reduction to $5,000,000 ($2,000,000 past – 3 1/2 years, $3,000,000 future – 10 years).
Here are the details of the injuries sustained by Ms. Belt::
- traumatic brain injuries – cerebral concussion, temporal bone fracture, intracranial hemorrhage and frontal lobe hematoma
- displaced transverse femur fracture
- pelvic fracture
- ankle fracture with significant scarring
- severe clavicle fracture
Her injuries left Rashawana hospitalized for five months during which time she was in a coma for four weeks, underwent a tracheostomy, and had her femur fracture repaired via open reduction with internal fixation using an intramedullary rod.
Unfortunately, plaintiff was left unable to walk without a cane, with a permanent palsy of her face and permanent memory loss. At trial, it was shown that she functioned at a grade school level, was severely incapacitated and could not return to school or her part-time job as an office assistant.
In reducing the verdict from $15,000,000 to $5,000,000, the appellate judges cited and relied upon several prior relevant decisions:
- Coque v. Wildflower Estates Developers, Inc. (2d Dept. 2008) – $4,300,000 (increased from $1,750,000) for a 31 year old who sustained a burst fracture of his thoracic spine leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, incontinent and requiring self-catheterization six times a day.
- Cintron v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2008) – $4,750,000 (increased from $2,500,000) for a 14 year old who sustained multiple skull fractures requiring surgery (and a hip fracture). He was left with cognitive impairments such as diminished sensory skills in his hand and his visual-spatial thinking but by the time of trial was able to get a high school diploma and work as a carpenter.
- Chelli v. Banle Associates, LLC (2d Dept. 2005) – $3,500,000 (reduced from $4,500,000) for a 38 year old who sustained compound depressed skull and highly comminuted hand fractures requiring a craniotomy and open reduction internal fixation hand surgery leaving him with traumatic brain injuries including severe linguistic defects, bilateral hemiparesis and unable to walk without an ankle foot arthrosis and a cane.
- Reed v. City of New York (1st Dept. 2003) – $5,000,000 affirmed for a 43 year old who sustained multiple skull fractures, a subdural hematoma and occipital contusions causing permanent brain damage that left her demented, with a complete loss of olfactory sense and unable to lie down (requiring her to sleep in a sitting-up position)
- A witness reported that the driver continued to apply the car’s accelerator pedal after the vehicle had stopped and pinned Belt, despite Belt’s screams and the witness’s pleas.
- The driver was imprisoned as a result of the drunk driving incident and he did not attend the trial.