Luis Molina was on his way to work the night shift as a building engineer at The Yale Club in Manhattan on November 16, 2008. At about 11:30 p.m., Mr. Molina slipped on a plastic bag while descending the stairs leading to the Hunts Point subway station in the Bronx. His feet slid out from under him and he landed on his back.
The stairway was open to the street and Molina contended that trash often blew on the stairway, at least in part because of windy conditions and the open design of the stairway.
In the ensuing lawsuit, a Bronx County jury determined that the transit authority negligent was negligent after hearing evidence that the authority’s employees knew there was debris on the stairs regularly and took no additional measures to clean the area.
Molina, 47 years old at the time of the accident, was awarded pain and suffering damages at trial in the sum of $1,900,000 ($600,000 past – 3 years, $1,300,000 future – 27 years).
Defendant appealed arguing (a) unsuccessfully, that there was no basis for the imposition of any liability against it and (b) successfully, that the pain and suffering award was excessive.
In Molina v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2014), the appellate court affirmed the jury’s liability finding but reduced the award for future pain and suffering damages by $500,000 (from $1,300,000 to $800,000).
After the reduction, the total pain and suffering award now stands at $1,400,000.
The appellate court also affirmed the jury’s other awards in the sums of $650,000 for lost earnings and $60,000 for medical expenses. The decision, therefore, results in a total award, before interest, in the sum of $2,110,000 ($1,400,000 for pain and suffering, $650,000 for earnings and $60,000 for medical expenses).
Unfortunately, the appellate court decision states nothing at all as to the nature of the injuries sustained by plaintiff. According to court documents, Mr. Molina sustained tears of the rotator cuff and labrum in his right shoulder and, because of overuse, a rotator cuff tear of the supraspinatus tendon in his left shoulder. He also claimed that the accident trauma caused herniated discs in his back.
Here are the injury details:
- Hospital emergency room the day after the accident – pain medication and sling for arm
- Physical therapy starting two weeks later three times a week for eight weeks
- Right shoulder arthroscopic surgery in May 2009 to repair full thickness rotator cuff tear of the supraspinatus tendon
- Right shoulder immobilized in a sling for four months after surgery
- Left shoulder partially torn rotator cuff and labral tear due to overuse requiring arthroscopic surgery in October 2010 to debride the tissue
- Significant and permanent range of motion loss in both shoulders
- Unable to return to work since February 2009
- Unable to return to recreational sports, especially handball, a lifelong passion since plaintiff had been a champion in high school
- Herniated disc at L5-S1 requiring two epidural steroid injections and resulting in a recommendation for future surgery
The defense contended that (a) plaintiff’s injuries were not nearly as severe as claimed, (b) he had preexisting arthritis and impingement of his right shoulder, (c) the claim related to his left shoulder was simply “proof of how to try to build the case,” and (d) he had preexisting significant degenerative changes in his lower back. In his summation, defense counsel argued that plaintiff was an overweight, overworked man who was orchestrating matters so that he would have “a way to get somebody to pay him for not working for the rest of his life.”
Plaintiff’s counsel, Andrea V. Borden, conceded that her client had some “preexisting stuff” but noted that there was no evidence Mr. Molina had ever treated for shoulder or back pain before the accident. She relied upon the testimony of plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon, Gabriel Dassa, M.D., who explained to the jury all of plaintiff’s injuries and their consequences. In her closing argument, Ms. Borden suggested to the jurors that they award plaintiff $600,000 for his past pain and suffering plus $1,300,000 for the future and those are the exact numbers they awarded.
- Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $800,000 against which there was no offer.
- The accident was unwitnessed and unreported at the time. Plaintiff testified that he was embarrassed and “jumped on [his] feet … continued walking down the steps and continued to work.” He also reported to work the next day but was in pain, unable to continue and sent home by his boss. It was then that he sought medical treatment for the first time.