On January 27, 2003, at about 9:45 a.m., Lucille Turuseta was walking into the rear entrance of an office building at 175 Main Street in White Plains where she worked as the office manager for a court reporting firm. As she opened the door, Ms. Turuseta’s right foot became caught in broken cement causing her to fall to the ground.
She fell and sustained a fractured coccyx and a herniated disc at L4-5.
Although she tried to return to work on several occasions, Ms. Turuseta claimed she was unable to do so due to unremitting pain. And, within four months, she was determined to have sustained a major depressive episode.
Then, the Social Security Administration determined that, as of August 2003, Ms. Turuseta had become disabled (i.e., unable to do any substantial gainful activity because of her physical and/or mental impairments).
In January 2008, a Westchester County jury determined that the building owner and manager were negligent and fully responsible for plaintiff’s injuries because broken concrete near the door saddle was a dangerous defect that they knew of several months earlier and could have repaired for $200.
The same jury then awarded Ms. Tursueta $80,000 solely for her future medical expenses while awarding her nothing at all for her pain and suffering.
The trial judge agreed with plaintiff that the verdict awarding $80,000 appeared to be an impermissible compromise – how could a jury award her future medical expenses (the figure corresponded with the amount her doctors testified would be needed for future coccyx and spinal surgeries) but nothing for pain and suffering? The $80,000 verdict was set aside and a new trial ordered on the issue of damages.
Ms. Turuseta testified that the unremitting pain in her back and coccyx was not relieved with extensive pain medication, trigger point injections or facet block injections. She hobbled to the stand with a cane and said she was in substantial pain even while sitting on a pillow and using pain relief medicine.
Her doctors testified that she had substantial limitations bending and lifting and that she could not perform even light jobs. SSEP tests demonstrated irritation of the nerve roots in her legs and Ms. Tursueta was diagnosed with lumbar radiculopathy, a chronic pain condition characterized by leg pain with tingling, numbness or weakness that travels from the low back through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg.
On July 2, 2009, the second jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $2,796,096 ($576,867 past – 6 years, $2,219,229 future – 28 years).
Now, in Turuseta v. Wyassup-Laurel Glen Corp. (2d Dept. 2012), the appellate court has agreed with the defendants that the pain and suffering award was excessive and ruled that it should be reduced to $1,150,000 ($400,000 past, $750,000 future). The appellate court also upheld the loss of earnings award in the sum of about $840,000 and future household expenses in the sum of $90,000.
Although reduced by more than $1,600,000, the resulting pain and suffering award of $1,150,000 nonetheless stands as a very significant sum upheld out of the usually conservative Westchester County for orthopedic injuries that hadn’t required surgery as of the trial date.
- In seeking to set aside the first verdict, plaintiff’s counsel proposed an amount of $1,000,000 for total pain and suffering – $900,000 for his client’s physical injuries plus $100,000 for her depression. In his summation at the second trial, counsel asked the jury to award $1,650,000 for pain and suffering (without suggesting a division between her physical and psychological injuries).
- At the time of her accident, Ms. Turuseta’s employer was her best friend and testified on her behalf. And that woman’s husband was Ms. Turuseta’s attorney in this case. In closing arguments, her attorney stated: “I know this lady. I like this lady. She was my friend. She is my friend.”
- X-rays on the date of the accident indicated there was no fracture of the coccyx; it wasn’t until a few days later that another x-ray clearly identified the fracture.