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Loss of Parental Guidance Awards Reduced on Appeal of Major Wrongful Death Case

Posted in Wrongful Death

We discussed the nearly $15,000,000 damages award in the fatal motor vehicle crash case of 28 year old Jason M. Rhoades in an article published on December 3, 2013, here. As we predicted, the defendant appealed arguing that the loss of parental guidance awards were excessive and that the loss of inheritance awards were improper.

Last week, the appellate court ruled in Grevelding v. State of New York  (4th Dept. 2015) and held that the loss of parental guidance awards were excessive but that the loss of inheritance awards were reasonable and proper.

In addition, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the entire damages award should have been reduced by an apportionment of some liability on the basis of decedent driver’s comparative fault.

The loss of parental guidance awards for the decedent’s son Luke (two years old at the time of his father’s death, 11 at trial) in the sum of $2,000,000 ($900,000 past – 9 years, $1,100,000 future – 7 years) were reduced by $600,000 and now stand at $1,400,000 ($500,000 past , $900,000 future).

The loss of parental guidance awards for the decedent’s daughter Amelia (two months old at the time of her father’s death, 9 at trial) in the sum of $2,200,000 ($900,000 past – 9 years, $1,300,000 future – 9 years) were reduced by $700,000 and now stand at $1,500,000 ($500,000 past, $1,000,000 future).

While the loss of parental guidance award reductions are significant, the modified awards remain among the highest allowed by the appellate courts in New York. The judges were apparently influenced by substantial testimony that Mr. Rhoades was by all accounts an exemplary father who came home every day at 5:30 p.m. and took over responsibility for his two young children and that he and his son were “inseparable.”

The $1,603,306 awards of damages for loss of inheritance were based upon expert testimony projecting (1) a savings rate of 2% of Rhoades’ income and (2) an investment growth rate of 8.2%.

The defense argued on appeal that the loss of inheritance awards should be vacated because they were duplicative of the $8,728,980 awarded to decedent’s spouse and children for their loss of his past and future income, support and household services. The court rejected that argument since it has long been held and is routinely explained to juries by trial judges that the monetary damages to a decedent’s distributees (here, his wife and two children) include both the portion of decedent’s earnings he would have spent in the future for their care and support and the amount if any that would have been inherited by them.

Inside Information:

  • Neither party appealed with regard to the issues of the amounts of damages awarded for pre-impact terror ($250,000) or loss of income, support and household services ($8,728,980).
  • Mr. Rhoades suffered the tragic death of both of his parents when he was 17 years old. Thereafter, he lived by himself in an apartment while he finished high school. Then, he completed a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University in less than three years and an MBA at LeMoyne College in just one year, all while holding down jobs in the telecommunications industry.
  • The issue of damages in the wrongful death case of Gardner v. State of New York, involving another fatal motor vehicle crash at the same site just 36 hours after this accident  (about which we also wrote in our December 3, 2013 article), is the subject of an appeal set for oral argument in the 4th Department on December 7, 2015.