On September 28, 2010, Susan Sermoneta was waiting for a subway train at West 181st Street in Manhattan when another passenger, David Cloud, slipped on a slimy substance on the subway platform that had oozed from a garbage can. Mr. Cloud fell onto Ms. Sermoneta who in turn fell to the ground injuring her knee.
Ms. Sermoneta, then a 66 year old amateur street photographer, sued the transit authority claiming that it was negligent in that the slime was a recurring condition and the area was uncleaned on the day of the accident (the regular cleaning attendant failed to report to work that day). The Manhattan jury returned a verdict finding that the defendant was fully at fault for the incident and that Mr. Cloud bore no responsibility.
The jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $2,700,000 ($700,000 past – five years, $2,000,000 future – 15 years).
In Sermoneta v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2017), the appellate court affirmed the liability finding but agreed with the defendant that the pain and suffering award was excessive and it ordered a reduction of the future damages award to $1,000,000. As a result, the damages award stands at $1,700,000.
The court’s decision mentions that plaintiff sustained a knee injury. Here are the injury details:
- treated and released from hospital emergency room with narcotic pain medication, crutches and a knee immobilizer (which was worn for two months)
- impaction fracture of the patella with displacement of the articular surface
- physical therapy (13 weeks) and cortisone shots
- post-traumatic arthritis with continuing pain and antalgic gait
- unable to squat or move quickly
- needs total knee replacement surgery in near future
- major depressive disorder – aggravation of pre-existing controlled dysthemia (chronic low-level moderate depression)
Plaintiff had been a widely acclaimed and passionate amateur street photographer whose work “was at the core of her pre-accident life” and whose photographs were displayed in books and magazines. She claimed that her avocation was demolished as a result of her knee injury and disabilities which then in turn contributed to the development of her major depressive disorder. It appears the jury agreed after hearing extensive testimony not only from plaintiff but also from her treating orthopedic surgeon, mental health professionals, family members and friends.
- Plaintiff was helped to her feet at the scene of the accident and got onto a subway train to continue her trip but got off at 34th Street and called 911 for ambulance transportation to the hospital due to increasing knee pain and swelling.
- Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $2,500,000 against an offer of $50,000.
- No medical experts testified for the defense although the five page three year old report of its examining orthopedic surgeon (finding no evidence of any disability) was placed in evidence by stipulation of the parties after the doctor’s appearance date in court was canceled when plaintiff’s counsel had to deliver a eulogy at the funeral of a close friend.
- Plaintiff had posted about 65,000 photographs on Flickr, one of which received half a million views and one of which was chosen as the centerpiece for a major camera company’s advertising brochure.
- Despite her injuries, within seven months, plaintiff was able to travel including trips to Nevada, Hawaii, Cuba, Sarajevo, Guatemala, Bali and India. She took photographs on each trip but argued they were merely “bucket list” trips, structured so she could refrain from any strenuous activity and she remained depressed and unable to experience any kind of the joy she would have but for the accident and injuries.