Jorge Angamarca was 32 years old on October 23, 2003, working as a carpenter on the roof of a residential townhouse under construction in Brooklyn. He fell two stories through an improperly covered skylight hole and sustained catastrophic injuries.
Under New York’s Labor Law Section 240(1), Angamarca was granted summary judgment as to liability against the owner of the building and its contractors because he had not been provided with any safety device or equipment, as required by the statute.
The parties could not agree on an appropriate damages settlement so the case went to a damages only trial.
On April 8, 2009, the Kings County jury awarded plaintiff $20,000,000 broken down as follows:
- Past pain and suffering – $100,000 (6 years)
- Future pain and suffering – $1,000,000 (40 years)
- Past loss of earnings – $74,013 (6 years)
- Future loss of earnings – $573,131 (23 years)
- Past medical expenses – $1,531,172 (6 years)
- Future medical expenses – $16,721,684 (40 years)
The parties each appealed the awards with plaintiff arguing that the pain and suffering awards were unreasonably low and the defense arguing that the future medical expense award was too high.
In Angamarca v. New York City Partnership Hous. Dev. Fund, Inc. (1st Dept. 2011), the appellate court ordered a $3,900,000 increase in the pain and suffering awards as follows:
- past pain and suffering increased from $100,000 to $1,500,000
- future pain and suffering increased from $1,000,000 to $3,500,000
Here are some of the injury details:
- Skull fractures with intracranial subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhaging that required several surgeries including a temporal craniectomy, resection of lobes and placement of a cranioplasty
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) leaving plaintiff with cognitive deficits affecting his speech, memory and emotions as well as left visual field neglect and spasticity of his left-sided extremities (arm and leg).
- Fractures of his spine at T7-8 requiring T6-9 anterior spinal fusion with structural humeral allograft, autograft and screw plate construct
- Displaced Colles fracture, right wrist (with malunion)
- Midshaft tibia and fibula fractures, right leg
Plaintiff was unconscious at the scene, remained in a coma for three months and was confined to the hospital for 45 days and a rehabilitation facility for 13 months before he started living in a group home for TBI patients.
By the time of trial, plaintiff was ambulatory but only with a severely awkward and restricted gait. Through expert testimony, he also claimed he was permanently incapable of taking care of himself and cannot live independently.
- The defense called only one medical witness to testify – neuropsychologist Thomas Boland, Ph.D. Plaintiff called several experts including an orthopedic surgeon (Ira Esformes, M.D.), a neuropsychologist (Dustin Gordon, Ph.D.), a neurosurgeon (Douglas Cohen, M.d.), a vocational rehabilitation counselor (Ed Provder, Ph.D) and an economist (Frank Tinari, Ph.D.).
- The defense argued in summation that the $16,000,000 for future medical expenses suggested by plaintiff’s experts was outrageously high and the product of incredible testimony, calculations and growth rates.
- Plaintiff was not a U.S. citizen; he’d come here from Ecuador two years before the accident and was undocumented. The defense was precluded from raising plaintiff’s immigration status under the recent ruling in Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC (Court of Appeals 2006) but the defense nonetheless argued, unsuccessfully, that the jury should be allowed to consider whether plaintiff intended to return to Ecuador where medical care is socialized and his future medical costs would be nowhere near the $16,000,000 awarded by the jury for lifetime assisted living.
- Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $16,000,000 for pain and suffering whereas defense counsel suggested an award of $1,500,000.