On December 24, 2007, at about 5 p.m., Anabell Rivera was on her way to her twin sister’s home in Jersey City to celebrate Christmas and their 50th birthdays.
As Ms. Rivera was walking down a staircase at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, she tripped and fell sustaining injuries to her right wrist and left ankle.
In her ensuing lawsuit, Ms. Rivera claimed that a missing section of the steps caused her to fall. On August 13, 2013, the Bronx County jury agreed, finding that the staircase was not reasonably safe and further that Ms. Rivera was not at all comparatively at fault.
The jurors then determined that plaintiff was entitled to a pain and suffering damages award in the sum of $413,000 ($206,500 past – six years, $206,500 future – 27 years).
In Rivera v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (1st Dept. 2015), both the liability and damages verdicts have been affirmed.
The appellate court’s decision addressed the trial judge’s rulings and jury instructions regarding certain issues as to witnesses and evidence. It also addressed the defendant’s contention that the damages awards were excessive stating that the defendant’s arguments are unavailing.
Here are the details as to plaintiff’s injuries:
- Ambulance to the local hospital where she was treated and released from the emergency room with diagnoses of (1) a non-displaced fracture of the right radial head of her wrist and (2) no ankle fracture.
- Unable to return to work for two weeks (plaintiff was an eligibility specialist at the city’s Human Resources Administration).
- Right Wrist – comminuted fracture of the distal radius.
- Left Ankle – subchondral fracture of the medial malleolus, tear of the posterior talo-fibular ligament.
As of the trial date, plaintiff had not undergone any surgery related to her injuries; however, there was a dispute as to whether she’d need any surgery in the future.
Plaintiff’s orthopedic expert testified that (a) as to her wrist, recent x-rays indicate the presence of post-traumatic arthritis, plaintiff had loss of range of motion and diminished grip strength and she needs arthoplasty with neurolysis of the medial nerve and (b) as to her ankle, an MRI taken a year after the accident revealed the fracture and she needs arthroscopic surgery.
To the contrary, defendant’s expert testified that based upon his examination of plaintiff in 2010 and his review of radiological studies (a) plaintiff’s wrist was clinically healed and surgery was not needed and (b) there was no ankle fracture caused by the accident in view of the negative x-ray and the absence of any joint swelling on the date of the accident, even if the MRI demonstrates a fracture it was indeterminate as to when it occurred and, in any event, he found no impairment or disability in his examination two years post-accident.
- Ms. Rivera had fractured her right radius in 1999 requiring surgery that left her with a permanent metal plate and discomfort.
- The $37,000 awarded for future medical expenses was based upon testimony that plaintiff’s wrist surgery would cost $20,000 and her ankle surgery $17,000.