On May 30, 2008, at about 8:30 p.m., then 49 year old William Cardoza was drinking beer outside in front of the Bronx building where he lived. New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers assigned to address quality of life issues, such as public drinking, observed Mr. Cardoza with an open container. In the next two minutes, the officers approached him and asked for identification whereupon the parties confronted one another and Mr. Cardozo was placed under arrest.
While the parties disputed whether Mr. Cardoza refused to provide identification or simply didn’t understand the officers due to a language barrier, it was undisputed that as he was taken into custody, Mr. Cardoza was pepper-sprayed and hit in his right hand repeatedly by an officer’s baton. A videotape captured the entire incident.
In his ensuing case alleging excessive force, false arrest and resulting injuries, on April 6, 2012, after 12 days of trial, a Bronx County jury awarded Mr. Cardoza pain and suffering damages in the sum of $2,500,000 ($500,000 past – four years, $2,000,000 future – 15 years) as well as punitive damages in the sum of $1,500,000 ($750,000 against each of the two involved officers).
The trial judge ordered a reduction in the pain and suffering damages to $350,000 ($200,000 past, $150,000 future) and vacated the awards for punitive damages.
In Cardoza v. City of New York (1st Dept. 2016), the appellate court reinstated the verdict for pain and suffering damages to the extent of $1,650,000 ($400,000 past, $1,250,000 future) and it reinstated $150,000 of the punitive damages awards ($75,000 against each officer).
As set forth in the court’s lengthy and well-written decision, plaintiff sustained right (dominant) hand and finger fractures and post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorders as a result of the incident.
Here are the injury details:
- displaced, comminuted open fractures to second metacarpal bone of right hand
- open reduction internal fixation surgery to repair the fractures with K-wires
- six day hospitalization, handcuffed and shackled to bed until discharged
- surgical removal of wires after 10 weeks
- physical therapy 2-3 months
- development of scar tissue with resultant permanent loss of range of motion and diminished grip strength, manual and finger dexterity, all resulting in an inability to perform many work-related activities such as holding tools, painting and making apartment repairs and difficulty with activities of daily living such as getting dressed
- psychiatric/emotional injuries including feeling isolated, useless, helpless and depressed, inability to sleep, recurring nightmares, fear of seeing policemen, and suicidal ideations, all of which plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist opined left him with permanent post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorders requiring four years of psychiatric treatment to the date of trial, 15 more years of treatment in the future and anti-depressant and sedative medications including Lexapro, Ambien and Trazodone
- Hugo Morales, M.D., plaintiff’s treating and testifying psychiatrist, is the only Spanish speaking psychiatrist in the Bronx.
- Plaintiff had been a building superintendent for 14 years and at the time of his arrest was working in that capacity part-time. He was unable to return to work until about four months later (but only in a limited capacity); however, he did not assert a lost earnings claim.
- Defendant’s settlement offer of $100,000 was rejected and plaintiff’s counsel asked the jurors to award pain and suffering damages of $1,600,000 plus punitive damages of $1,000,000 against each of the two police officers.
- Plaintiff’s attorney, Seth A. Harris, stated that this case represented one of the most compelling excessive force cases he’s seen in 25 years. He also said that both police officers will be indemnified for the punitive damages awards and will not have to pay out of pocket.