Their traditional potluck dinner on Christmas Eve in 2001 was shaping up to be another wonderful event in the lives of Tom and Lorraine Buckley. As always, Tom had shopped at the local food stores in Warwick, New York and Lorraine prepared the house. A dozen friends arrived, drinks were served and then tragedy began to unfold.
Tom was sitting on a chair in a corner when Lorraine noticed his eyes were closed while he was repeatedly taking his right hand and trying with difficulty to touch his nose – sort of like the field sobriety tests police officers give to test a driver’s coordination.
Lorraine drove her 49 year old husband to the local hospital where he was treated in the emergency room. A CT scan was read as negative and he was discharged to home after an hour with a diagnosis of “lethargy possibly secondary to alcohol.” It turns out that Mr. Buckley was suffering from the early stages of a stroke but doctors missed the diagnosis.
After falling twice during the night, Lorraine again took Tom to the hospital. This time it was apparent to all that Mr. Buckley was experiencing a stroke. He was admitted and treated but severe and irreversible damage had already occurred.
In his ensuing lawsuit in Orange County Supreme Court, plaintiff claimed that the emergency room physician and the radiologist who read the CT scan were negligent in failing to admit him on Christmas Eve when they could have treated him for a stroke and avoided permanent damage.
After a three week trial, the jurors ruled that both physicians departed from accepted medical practices in failing to admit Mr. Buckley to the hospital on December 24th.
The jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $6,000,000 ($2,000,00 past – nine years, $4,000,000 future – 22 years); however, the trial judge found the awards excessive and he ordered a reduction to $2,250,000.
In Buckley v. Haque (2d Dept. 2013), the pain and suffering damages were further reduced to $1,300,000 ($300,000 past, $1,000,000 future).
The appellate court decision offers no insight into the nature of the plaintiff’s injuries which we have uncovered:
- lacunar stroke of left basal ganglion
- admitted to hospitals for five weeks
- extensive physical, occupational and speech therapy first as an in-patient, then for many months as an outpatient, then at home
- extremely slow gait (e.g., cannot cross a street before the light changes)
- limited use of right arm
- destruction of almost all social relationships
- unable to help his teenage children with their education or enjoy fishing with his son and shopping with his daughter
- marital relationship severely impaired
- After asking jurors to award past and future loss of earnings in excess of $4,000,000 (based on plaintiff’s prior salary of about $200,000 a year), plaintiff’s attorney addressed pain and suffering damages simply (and effectively) in his closing argument: “I would suggest that … [pain and suffering damages are] equal to the economic damages at least ….”
- A full settlement has now been reached. After trial (but before the judge’s decision reducing the damage awards), plaintiff settled with the emergency room physician; he has now settled with the radiologist as well. The settlement terms are undisclosed.
- Plaintiff had been the president of a silicone business in charge of everything except finances. He tried to return to work after being discharged from the rehabilitation hospital but was unable to run the business, physically, mentally and emotionally. His business partner forced him out of the firm in early 2004 and at the time of the trial he was employed part-time as a grocery store clerk.