On July 30, 2011 Anita Castro was seated on a patio having lunch after golfing at a club in Saratoga when a busboy decided to move another table and in the process of lifting it a table leg struck her in the head and face.
The veranda at Saratoga Spa Golf, where this incident took place:
Dazed and in pain, Ms. Castro, then 49 years old, was taken by ambulance to the hospital where she was treated and evaluated for a head contusion and a cervical strain. Ultimately, she developed permanent complex regional pain syndrome (“CRPS).
In her ensuing lawsuit against the golf club, the trial judge directed a verdict of liability against the defendant and then the jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $300,000 ($200,000 past – four years, $100,000 future – 28 years). The trial judge agreed with plaintiff that the award was inadequate and he ordered an increase to $900,000 ($300,000 past, $600,000 future), an amount that has been affirmed on appeal in Castro v. Professional Golf Services, Inc. (4th Dept. 2016).
In addition, plaintiff was awarded and the appellate court approved past and future medical expenses in the sum of $307,850 ($100,000 past, $207,850 future).
The appellate court decision does not at all disclose the nature of plaintiff’s injuries. Here are the injury details:
- onset of vertigo on day of accident followed by tremendous, debilitating migraine headaches diagnosed as post-traumatic migraine headaches
- gradual closing of jaw – within first month, it was virtually closed
- temporomandibular joint (“TMJ”) disorder
- TMJ reconstructive joint arthroplasty surgery (also known as fat grafting surgery) – to remove TMJ discs and stabilize with fat grafts
- Ketamine infusions, nerve blocks and injections
- complex regional pain syndrome (“CRPS”) – permanent
The defendant contended that plaintiff’s extremity symptoms, TMJ and migraine headaches all predated the 2011 accident and that prior treatment records made a mention of possible CRPS. Furthermore, a defense medical expert opined that plaintiff’s multiple complaints of pain do not have an organic (or physical) basis. In 1983, Ms. Castro underwent cervical fusion surgery and seven years later she had a car accident that aggravated her old neck injury and also caused a mild concussion. In the early 1990’s, she had two car accidents, one causing low back pain, the other a head injury and neck pain. Then, in 1997, she had a slip and fall incident in which she again aggravated her neck injury and sustained a new injury to her lower back leaving her with a frozen shoulder. At the time, she attributed several symptoms to the slip and fall accident, including pain in all extremities. She was eventually medically determined to be permanently disabled and no longer worked.
Plaintiff stressed that several years after being declared disabled in the late 90’s, plaintiff returned to an active lifestyle. She became very involved in a dance studio and enjoyed golfing four times a week as well as hiking and kayaking. Since the accident in 2011, though, Ms. Castro’s physical condition greatly deteriorated and she suffers from continuing and debilitating migraine headaches, wears special glasses due to extreme light sensitivity, can only eat soft foods, endures constant pain throughout her body especially in her bones and joints, is extremely weak and requires a cane to walk.
- In his closing argument, defense counsel suggested an award of $150,000 for past pain and suffering and $100,000 for the future. Plaintiff’s attorney did not suggest or even mention any amounts for his client’s pain and suffering. He simply asked the jurors to “take into consideration the pain and suffering”endured, and her loss of enjoyment of life, both in the past and permanently in the future.
- A total of nine physicians testified (seven for plaintiff, two for the defense), including plaintiff’s expert Mark A. Piper, M.D., D.M.D, one of the world’s leading physicians in the treatment of CRPS and its association with TMJ. Plaintiff’s TMJ physician and defendant’s dental expert both recognized Dr. Piper as an expert in CRPS and TMJ and both had attended his lectures.
- The jurors viewed a videotape of plaintiff taken by a friend one month before her 2011 accident. It showed her playing with her nephews on a putting green and the trial judge described it as impressive evidence of the ” … striking change in the plaintiff’s physical appearance and disabilities.”