On February 6, 2008, livery taxicab driver Alfonso Robles was involved in a crash with another car in Port Chester. He ended up in the hospital emergency room and in his ensuing lawsuit commenced on May 21, 2009 against the other driver and vehicle owner, on January 24, 2012, a Westchester County jury apportioned liability at 65% on the defendant driver and 35% on Robles.
The same jury then considered damages in a separate trial. They found that plaintiff’s injuries merited a pain and suffering award of $800,000 ($400,000 past – four years, $400,000 future – 37 years). Plaintiff’s motion seeking an increase in damages was denied by the trial judge in a post-trial decision on July 20, 2012.
On appeal in Robles v. Polytemp, Inc. (2nd Dept. 2015), the award has been affirmed.
As set forth in the appellate court decision, plaintiff, 37 years old at the time of his accident, sustained disc herniations requiring both cervical and lumbar spinal fusion surgeries.
Cervical fusion post-op image:
Here are the injury details:
- Herniated discs at C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7 with radiculopathy
- Surgery #1 on 3/31/09: two level cervical discectomy and fusion with six screws and a titanium plate inserted
- Herniated discs at L4-5 and L5-S1 with radiculopathy
- Surgery #2 on 8/18/09: two level lumbar fusion and laminectomy at L4-5 and L5-S1 with six screws and and a rod screw construct
- Continuing and permanent spinal pain and radiculopathy requiring narcotic pain medication and leaving plaintiff with weakness of both arms and legs
- Unable to work as a vehicle driver, unable to bend or carry
- Unable to return at all to activities previously enjoyed such as dancing, running and soccer
Cervical radiculopathy – pain and other symptoms from the irritation of cervical spine nerves – can affect various parts of the neck, shoulders and upper extremities:
The jury determined, as set forth in its verdict sheet, that plaintiff failed to use an available seatbelt and that his recovery should therefore be reduced by $200,000. New York law that provides that non-use of an available seat belt, and expert testimony in regard thereto, is a factor which the jury may consider, in light of all the other facts received in evidence, in arriving at its determination as to whether the plaintiff has exercised due care, not only to avoid injury to himself, but to mitigate any injury he would likely sustain. Plaintiff argued successfully on appeal that the $200,000 reduction was improper because there was insufficient (expert) proof that plaintiff’s use of a seatbelt would have mitigated his damages.
- In closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jurors to award his client $5,000,000 for pain and suffering. Defense counsel argued that plaintiff should be awarded nothing at all because he had pre-existing degenerative discs in his spine, the impact between the cars was minimal and could not have caused the injuries claimed and that any injuries at all were due to non-use of a seatbelt.
- It appears that the jurors discounted plaintiff’s second surgery (lumbar fusion) and agreed with the testimony of defense expert orthopedic surgeon Robert Israel, M.D., who stated that there was no casual connection between the accident and that surgery and that plaintiff could return to work without restrictions. Spinal surgeon Sebastian Lattuga, M.D., testified for the plaintiff.
- The trial was hard fought on both sides with veteran trial lawyers Nick Gjelaj for the plaintiff and Sim R. Shapiro for the defendants.