On September 18, 2002 Thomas Pyle was a tile setter’s helper working on the construction of a 48 story residential apartment building in Manhattan that came to be known as 220 Riverside Drive.
Mr. Pyle, then 47 years old, tripped and fell onto his left hand due to construction debris on the floor. Bleeding profusely from his hand which had been cut by a sharp edge from marble debris, Pyle was driven to a local hospital by the site nurse.
Suit was brought against the owner of the site and the construction manager alleging violations of New York’s Labor Law. After a two week trial, the Manhattan jury returned a verdict on October 16, 2012 finding that the construction manager was liable for Pyle’s injuries under Labor Law Section 241 (6) because it violated the Industrial Code provision (Section 23-1.7[e]) that requires construction site floors to be kept free from debris and sharp projections; however, the jury also found that Pyle was comparatively negligent and liability was split 50-50 between the parties.
As to damages, the jury awarded $100,000 for pain and suffering for the five year period from the date of the accident to the date of Mr. Pyle’s death (from unrelated causes).
In Kutza v. Bovis Lend Lease LMB, Inc. (1st Dept. 2015), the liability verdict against the defendant was affirmed but the comparative negligence finding against plaintiff was reversed. Additionally, the pain and suffering award was found to be inadequate and it was increased to $400,000.
The appellate court also found inadequate the jury’s failure to award any damages at all for plaintiff’s wife’s loss of consortium claim and determined that $50,000 was the least that should have been awarded.
The decision mentions that that Pyle sustained a hand injury with nerve damage, painful symptoms consistent with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, anxiety and significant limitation of the use of his hand.
Here are additional injury details:
- deep lacerations of left (dominant hand) median nerve, flexor pollicis longus, flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus and radial artery
- surgery to repair the lacerations with over 30 sutures, irrigation and debridement and a carpal tunnel release
- six months of three times a week outpatient occupational and physical therapy
- development of deformed, claw-like hand, with no ability to flex or extend his fingers, continuing pain (requiring narcotic medication), numbness, loss of temperature sensation coldness and discoloration
- permanent, chronic and severe radial and ulnar neuropathy
- never able to return to work or to help his wife with cleaning, laundry and other household chores or to camp or help his 13 year old son with Boy Scouts activities
- depression with psychiatric treatment and medication
- Thomas Pyle’s death on November 16, 2007 was due to a heart attack (he had a history of hypertension) and he was never deposed in the lawsuit. His wife, Marianne Kutza, was appointed administrator of his estate, became the named plaintiff in the lawsuit and testified on his behalf.
- In 2011, the defendants sought to have the case dismissed in part because there were no actual eyewitnesses who testified they saw plaintiff’s fall. The claim under Labor Law 240(1) (as to elevation-related hazards) was dismissed but the case was allowed to proceed to trial on the other Labor Law claims.
- Mr. Pyle was earning about $50,000 a year before the accident and the jury awarded damages for lost earnings in the sum of $200,000.
- In his closing argument, while maintaining that plaintiff was responsible for the accident, defense counsel addressed the issue of damages and said that if the jurors determined defendants were liable then “a reasonable number for pain and suffering over that time period [five years] is anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000.”
- In discussions with jurors after the verdict was rendered, it appeared that three female jurors did not like Ms. Kutza and that the inadequate award was driven, at least in part, by animosity.