On April 22, 2009, Evan Martin, a 13 year old eighth grade student, was injured at school in Port Jefferson after a teacher assigned him and another student the task of closing a sliding gate to the school parking lot. The gate was a large chain-link structure measuring about 16 feet wide and six feet tall which slid back and forth by a rolling mechanism. Two of Evan’s fingertips were severed by the wheel mechanism at the top of the gate.
In his ensuing lawsuit against the school, a Suffolk County jury ruled that the defendants (the school and an adjacent church that shared the parking lot) were fully at fault for the accident and awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $600,000 ($450,000 past – five and a half years, $150,000 future – 55 years).
In Martin v. Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School (2d Dept. 2017), both the liability and damages verdicts have been affirmed.
In the liability phase of the trial, plaintiff contended that the gate was dangerous and students should not have been permitted to operate it without supervision, especially in view of the fact that othetr students had been injured in the past in a similar manner.
As noted in the court’s decision, the tips of Evan’s middle and ring fingers were severed. Here are the injury details:
- traumatic amputations of the tips of nondominant hand’s index and ring fingers, including the skin, the nail bed and portions of the bones
- emergency reattachment surgery using a composite replantation technique in suturing the fingertips back in place
- necrosis necessitating surgical removal of the fingertips – leaving plaintiff with losses of one-half inch in the length of his ring finger and three-eighths of an inch of his middle finger
- additional surgery to (a) remove dead skin and (b) apply skin grafts
- fourth surgery, on 12/7/09 – revision of left finger deformity and complex repair with portion of bone contoured for appropriate shaping
- hyperbaric treatments; physical therapy for six weeks
- permanent pain, numbness, tingling and deformity with difficulty in gripping small objects
In addition to his physical injuries, plaintiff presented testimony from an expert psychiatrist who evaluated Evan in 2012 and opined that Evan experienced significant emotional trauma and then suffered from acute stress disorder and that his permanent physical defects will have psychological implications for the rest of his life.
- In their summations plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $1,200,000 while defense counsel made no recommendations as to the amount of an award.
- The only medical witness for the defense was an orthopedic surgeon who acknowledged that Evan continued to suffer from tenderness, deformities, decreased range of motion and decreased sensation.
- Plaintiff’s expert psychiatrist testified that Evan met the criteria for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD); however, the trial judge instructed the jury to “strike any reference” to that diagnosis because when Evan was evaluated in 2012 the diagnosis was acute stress disorder not PTSD.