On October 30, 2009, at about 8 a.m., Anyolina Mata was crossing the Grand Concourse near her apartment in the Bronx when her foot became caught on a one inch high lip that surrounded a subway ventilation grate embedded in a concrete median. Ms. Mata fell forward to the ground where she lay in intense pain until an ambulance arrived and paramedics transported her to the local hospital.
A subway grate similar to the one in this case:
The metal grate had been installed, and was being maintained, by the New York City Transit Authority and in the ensuing lawsuit, a Bronx County jury determined that the authority was fully responsible for the accident. That same jury awarded Ms. Mata pain and suffering damages in the sum of $5,500,000 ($2,000,000 past – three years, $3,500,000 future – 50 years).
In Mata v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2015), the appellate court has reduced the award to $3,000,000 ($1,000,000 – past, $2,000,000 – future).
The court’s decision mentions that plaintiff sustained a wrist injury that required arthroscopic surgery and a back injury that required a laminectomy with fusion surgery. Here are additional injury details:
- Wrist: torn triangular fibrocartilage complex with associated synovitis; extensive physical therapy; cortisone and lidocaine injections; surgery 4/29/10 – synovectomy of the joint and debridement of the tear; guarded prognosis with chronic, permanent pain
- Back: L5-S1 annular tear (a rip in the annulus fibrosis); extensive physical therapy; three epidural steroid injections; discogram; surgery 3/7/12 with implantation of metallic rods and screws; four days in hospital followed by a month confined to bed at home; walking only with cane as of trial; chronic, permanent pain syndrome; may need revision surgeries as back deteriorates in the future
- Unable to walk her young children to school a few blocks from home or take them to parks, museums and the like as she had before the accident; unable to stand more than two hours per day, lift more than 15 pounds or twist her spine.
The defense claimed that the jury verdict was excessive because, despite her injuries and surgeries, plaintiff continued to successfully run a daycare center in her apartment for about a dozen children, got married in 2010, traveled to the Dominican Republic on a few occasions before her back surgery and could perform her usual daily activities, albeit “differently, altogether.” Furthermore, the defense noted that plaintiff’s wrist injury was not to her dominant side, did not extend to her hand and her surgery was minimally invasive. Under such circumstances, counsel suggested that reasonable compensation for Ms. Mata would be less than $3,000,000.
Plaintiff argued that the jury verdict did not materially deviate from what would be reasonable compensation because plaintiff was only 30 years old at trial, before the accident she was vibrant and asymptomatic, her back surgery was major and she has been left with permanent chronic pain and significant disabilities. Nonetheless, plaintiff’s counsel concluded that if the appellate court were to make a reduction it should be to an amount not less than $4,000,000.
- The jury also awarded plaintiff $200,000 for her medical expenses($100,000 past, $100,000 future), an amount which was not challenged on appeal.
- Plaintiff was able to operate her daycare business by hiring additional people but she made no claim for lost earnings.
- Plaintiff was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering and worked in those fields for about three years before attending City College to obtain a master’s in education and starting her childcare business shortly before her accident.
- In its post-trial motion seeking to set aside the entire verdict, the defendant claimed that plaintiff improperly concealed until she was cross-examined at trial the fact that she had a lifelong medical condition that causes dizziness, blurred vision and hallucinations. The judge issued a decision finding no merit to that argument.