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Large Pain and Suffering Award Cut by Appeals Court in Trip and Fall Case

Posted in Brain Injuries, Hip and Pelvis Injuries

On December 12, 2008, at about 4:45 p.m., Maria Alcantara tripped and fell when she stepped up from the sidewalk onto the concrete landing at the top of a stairway entrance to a subway station located at Graham and Metropolitan Avenues in Brooklyn. Ms. Alcantara, then 64 years old, fell down to the bottom of the stairway slamming her head and hip and sustaining serious injuries.

The Accident Site

The Accident Site

In October 2009, she sued the transit authority claiming that her fall was caused by an area of gouged and broken concrete that had existed for a substantial period of time before her fall.

On January 13, 2014, a Kings County jury determined that the incident was caused wholly by the transit authority’s negligence and then, two weeks later, after they heard detailed evidence of plaintiff’s injuries, the jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $16,000,000 ($5,000,000 past – six years, $11,000,000 future – 16 years).

In Alcantara v. New York City Transit Authority (2d Dept. 2016), the liability verdict was affirmed but the damages award was reduced to $5,000,000 ($2,000,000 past, $3,000,000 future).

As mentioned in the appellate court decision, plaintiff sustained a left hip fracture and a traumatic brain injury with post-traumatic seizure disorder.

hip1

Here are the injury details:

  • emergency admission to a local hospital for four days of observation and treatment and then an additional three days at Bellevue Hospital
  • displaced, comminuted left acetabular fracture extending to the ischial spine
  • closed reduction surgery – a metal pin was inserted through the distal end of the femur protruding outside the skin with weights attached so that the bone was  pulled out to alleviate pressure on the hip joint
  • traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a left frontal hematoma, frontal lobe contusion and a bruised cerebellum
  • daily seizures, altered mental status, headaches, confusion, memory loss, significant partial hearing loss and cognitive deficits
  • permanent loss of ability to speak
  • wheelchair bound (with some ability to ambulate with a walker)
  • depression

subdural hematoma1

Plaintiff testified at a preliminary hearing before she commenced her lawsuit (a so-called 50-h hearing in which municipalities and entities such as the transit authority are afforded the opportunity to examine under oath potential plaintiffs before a lawsuit is brought) but by the time of trial she lost the ability to speak due to her TBI and she was unable to bathe, cook, clean or manage her anti-seizure and other medications. She is cared for by various family members at their homes.

The defendant argued that the jury verdict was excessive because (a) plaintiff did not require hip replacement surgery, she had good range of motion, was not regressing and “nobody knows” why she doesn’t walk and (b) any brain damage was preexisting as evidenced by decades old meningiomas and there was no bleeding on the brain from this incident.

Plaintiff’s treating neurologist testified that the meningiomas were incidental, never caused any problems at all in the past, radiological studies taken in the hospitals soon after showed the brain hematoma and that all of plaintiff’s neurological injuries, including seizures and her inability to speak, were caused by the head trauma. The defense had plaintiff examined by an expert neurologist but he was not called to testify at trial.

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff was married at the time but had not lived with her husband for more than a year before the accident and there was no loss of consortium claim. He did, though, testify on her behalf as to her prior condition and current disabilities.
  • In his closing argument, plaintiff’s attorney suggested $4,000,000 for past pain and suffering plus $8,000,000 for the future.