On August 19, 2008, Dorothy Dunnigan was driving through an intersection on White Plains Road in the Bronx when her vehicle was struck by a transit authority bus. Both the 79 year old Ms. Dunnigan and her 41 year old passenger Dorothy Lemon sustained serious injuries.
In their ensuing lawsuits, a Bronx County jury determined in April 2013 that the crash was 100% the fault of the bus driver and the jurors awarded pain and suffering damages, as follows:
- to the estate of Ms. Dunnigan (she died in 2011 from unrelated causes) in the sum of $2,000,000 (all past – three years) and
- to Ms. Lemon in the sum of $4,000,000 ($2,000,000 past – three years, $2,000,000 future – 35 years).
In Coleman v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2015), the awards have been substantially reduced – to $1,000,000 for Ms. Dunnigan’s estate and to $3,500,000 ($1,500,000 past, $2,000,000 future) for Ms. Lemon.
As set forth in the court’s decision, Ms. Dunnigan sustained head and other injuries while Ms. Lemon sustained femur, knee and other injuries.
Here are the injury details:
Dunnigan: At the hospital immediately following the accident, she complained of headaches and overall body pain. A CT scan disclosed a subdural hematoma which required surgical evacuation with burr holes drilled into her skull. Following her craniotomy, Ms. Dunnigan remained hospitalized for five weeks and then she was admitted for one month to a rehabilitation facility. Although she drove a car and never required ambulatory assistance before the accident, she could no longer drive thereafter and required a rolling walker to get around. In addition, she had continuing shoulder, neck and knee pain, left side weakness, poor balance and forgetfulness all of which, plaintiff’s expert neurologist testified. were the result of her traumatic brain injury. She was essentially confined to her home until she died.
Lemon: A comminuted right femur fracture required open reduction internal fixation surgery with the insertion of an intramedullary rod and screws and a one month hospitalization. Upon discharge, she required visiting nurse assistance and inpatient rehabilitation. She never returned to work as a home health aide and required a cane to walk. About four years after the accident, Ms. Lemon underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee to repair a torn meniscus that her doctor opined was due to increased stress because of the femur fracture. She also suffered from back pain and unremitting headaches and dizzy spells 2-3 times a week and was diagnosed with depression for which she was medicated and undergoing psychiatric care.
The jury also awarded lost earnings damages to Ms. Lemon in the sum of $6,000,000 ($1,000,000 past – five years, $5,000,000 future – 35 years) but those amounts were slashed to $825,000 by the trial judge and further reduced by the appellate court to $617,000 ($97,000 past, $520,000 future – 25 years). The trial judge’s reduction was based upon plaintiff’s annualized last year’s wages as a part-time home health aide ($20,800) and the appellate court’s additional reduction was because there was no evidentiary basis to conclude Ms. Lemon would work the remainder of her life expectancy.
- During a recess between the close of evidence and summations, one of the jurors told the judge that Ms. Lemon approached her and said something to the effect of “vote for me.” The defendants moved for a mistrial arguing that their case was prejudiced. After extensive inquiry by the judge, the application for a mistrial was denied.
- In their summations, the attorney for Ms. Dunnigan’s estate asked the jury to award $1,000,000 for her pain and suffering while the attorney for Ms. Lemon asked for $6,000,000.
- Before the accident, Ms. Lemon was working as a home health aide for Ms. Dunnigan 20 hours a week helping her with matters such as shopping and laundry due to Ms. Dunnigan’s pre-existing cardiac and arthritis issues. Otherwise, Ms. Dunnigan had been in relatively good health.