On April 14, 2007, Antonia Corapi went to a party at an indoor sports facility called Sports Underdome in Mount Vernon.
Mrs. Corapi walked down a buffet line taking food from a table placed on an elevated platform, took a couple of steps back from the table and fell backwards off the platform to the artificial turf ground about nine inches below.
A day later, the 72 year old Mrs. Corapi went to see a doctor about back pain and shortly thereafter she sued claiming that the placement of the buffet table so close to the edge of the platform was unsafe and a substantial cause of her fall and injuries. A Westchester County jury agreed but determined that both parties were at fault and rendered a liability verdict apportioning liability 50% on each side.
A damages trial followed at which plaintiff claimed the accident caused serious spinal injuries. On November 28, 2011, the jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $195,000 ($50,000 past – 4.5 years, $145,000 future – 11.5 years) in addition to $200,000 for past medical expenses and $50,000 for future loss of services and consortium damages sustained by plaintiff’s husband, Peter Corapi.
Both sides asked the trial judge for relief – plaintiff claiming that the pain and suffering and loss of services awards were inadequate, defendant claiming that the medical expense award was in excess of the documented medical bills in evidence. The trial judge issued a decision reducing the medical expense award to $59,992 as requested but declining to disturb the pain and suffering or loss of services awards.
On appeal in Bock v. City of Mount Vernon (2d Dept. 2014), the trial judge’s decision has been affirmed and the pain and suffering awards stand at $195,000, along with the loss of services award at $50,000 and the medical expense award at $59,992 (with plaintiffs to receive only one-half of the total due to the 50-50 liability apportionment).
The appellate court decision simply states that the verdict as to pain and suffering damages “was not inadequate” and leaves the reader with no information at all as to the nature of Mrs. Corapi’s injuries. Here are the injury details:
- Compression fracture of L-1 vertebral body
- Surgery #1 on 5/9/07 – L-1 kyphoplasty, under intravenous sedation, reduction of the fracture with 11 gauge needle expansion of the compressed vertebral body and insertion of cement); eight day hospitalization
- Surgery #2 on 8/17/07 – under general anesthesia, T-11 to L-2 lumbar decompression with L-1 corpectomy, T-11 to L-3 posterior spinal fusion with segmental instrumentation; requiring 25 day hospitalization
- 19 mm scar
- multiple episodes of physical therapy for several months
- wheelchair bound with intractable and permanent back pain
Mrs. Corapi claimed that her back injury was devastating; however, the defense focused on the fact that she had very significant recent and long-standing prior complaints of back pain and treatment that were either downplayed or forgotten by plaintiff at trial:
- The x-ray taken of her back one day after the accident revealed osteopenia with degenerative joint disease “and old compression @ L1.” [Other records indicated that the L-1 fracture was acute or new.]
- Medical records from three weeks before the accident revealed that Mrs. Corapi fell the day prior and complained of mid back pain and being unable to stand or walk for any length of time.
- Radiology reports on 5/27/05 revealed a history of back and leg pain and on 6/27/05 and 4/10/06 revealed degenerative disc disease in the lower lumbosacral spine.
- History of prior back pain since at least 2001 for which plaintiff consulted physicians who (a) ordered bone density tests revealing progressive osteoporosis since 1999 and MRI’s from 2005 showing spondylosis (narrowing of the spine), (b) gave her steroid injections and (c) prescribed physical therapy.
- Handicapped parking permit issued in November 2006 due to very active rheumatoid arthritis.
Plaintiff contended that before the accident, although clinically depressed for 30 years, she led a functional, ambulatory and independent life including babysitting her grandchildren, cooking, cleaning and socializing outside the home. She said she’d never before had back pain anything like what she suffered from after the accident, had never undergone any surgery at all for her back and that since the accident she couldn’t do any of her usual activities and required her husband’s daily assistance for tasks as simple as bathing and dressing.
In addition to the usual directives as to a plaintiff being entitled to an award for for pain and suffering damages caused by a defendant’s negligence, the trial judge’s charge to the jury included a directive that if they found that plaintiff’s pre-existing medical conditions were aggravated so as to cause increased suffering and disability, then she would be entitled to recover damages for any increased disability or pain resulting from such aggravation.
It appears that the jury adopted all or most of the defense contentions that:
- Mrs. Corapi had significant pre-existing, degenerative, disabling and debilitating back pain,
- the fall simply aggravated or exacerbated her prior back pain and condition, and
- plaintiffs’ testimony denying or minimizing Mrs. Corapi’s pre-existing conditions significantly (and adversely) impacted their credibility
- Mrs. Corapi started two lawsuits regarding this accident and they were consolidated and tried in Westchester County. The first was brought in Suffolk County based upon plaintiffs’ residence there; the second was brought in Westchester because pre-trial evidence in the first lawsuit disclosed that the City of Mount Vernon was the owner of the land upon which the sports facility is located and CPLR 504(2) mandates that when a city is sued venue must be in the county in which it is situated. Ultimately, the city was dismissed as a defendant and the case proceeded to trial against Sports Underdome alone.
- Mrs. Corapi died from cardiopulmonary arrest on May 1, 2013 (while her appeal was pending). Her daughter Nina Bock was named executrix and the caption of the lawsuit was then amended to reflect these facts.
- In closing arguments, plaintiffs’ attorney asked the jury to award $2,800,000 for pain and suffering damages; defense counsel gave no specific number, instead simply asking the jury to award an amount that would be “fair and reasonable.” In post-trial motion papers, plaintiffs’ counsel requested an order increasing the pain and suffering awards to $750,000.
- The reduction of the past medical expense award appears to have come about because, although a subpoena was issued for the billing records (from Winthrop-University Hospital), there was no compliance with the subpoena and as a result no admissible evidence of the charges for plaintiff’s second surgery and hospital stay.