On November 22, 2007, Gail Rye was a passenger on a Lift Line, Inc. paratransit service bus in Rochester when the driver suddenly jammed on his brakes and she was propelled four rows forward, out of her wheelchair, head first into the back of the divider by the driver’s seat.
One of Lift Line’s buses:
Ms. Rye complained of back, knee and chest pain upon arrival by ambulance at Highland Hospital where she was admitted for three and a half weeks.
The bus driver conceded he was negligent; however, a lawsuit ensued because the parties could not agree upon the amount of pain and suffering damages due the plaintiff.
On February 3, 2010, in a damages only trial, a Monroe County jury determined that the then 64 year old Ms. Rye was entitled to the sum of $10,000 (all past) for her injuries, the most significant of which was to her knee – a fractured femoral condyle (one of the two the rounded prominences of the distal end of the femur):
Ms. Rye claimed on appeal that the damages award was inadequate and that the minimum reasonable amount for her injuries is $300,000.
In addition to her knee, plaintiff also claimed that the accident caused three fractured ribs and compression fractures of her L-1, L-3 and L-5 vertebrae; however, the defense argued, apparently successfully, that it was unclear whether these injuries were caused in the accident. It was argued that radiological studies were inconclusive as to when these fractures occurred, it was conceded that she had pre-existing back pain and expert medical testimony indicated that Ms. Rye suffered from pre-existing significant degenerative disease and arthritis of her spine as well as scoliosis.
In Rye v. Lift Line, Inc. (4th Dept. 2012), the court ordered an increase in damages to $60,000 ($45,000 past – 2 1/2 years, $15,000 future – unstated).
The increased award remains well below the figure deemed minimally reasonable by plaintiff’s counsel; however, there are several facts in this case not mentioned in the court’s decision that clearly brought about the low evaluation by the jurors and the appellate judges:
- The slight and nondisplaced femoral condyle fracture did not require surgery and healed well.
- For the five years before the bus accident, Ms. Rye had been unable to walk, even with a walker (one of her hips had been removed), lived in an assisted living home and had end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis three times a week.
- Plaintiff had several other pre-existing medical conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (for which she used at-home oxygen), diabetes, depression, schizophrenia, gout and osteoarthritis.
- After this accident, for unrelated medical reasons, Ms. Rye’s lower left leg was amputated.
- In closing arguments, defense counsel suggested that the jury should award $1,000 a week for plaintiff’s pain pointing to his medical expert’s conclusion that all of plaintiff’s fractures had healed within eight weeks.