On April 6, 2011, at about 9:30 p.m., Claudia Shepherd was struck and run over by a sanitation truck in the crosswalk at the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn. The driver fled the scene but an eyewitness chased the truck and identified it to the police.
In the ensuing lawsuit against the driver and owner of the truck, defendants claimed their truck was not involved in the accident. The driver admitted that the intersection was within his route that night but he denied hitting the plaintiff. The jurors found otherwise on both counts and returned a verdict of full liability against the defendants. The matter then proceeded to a trial on damages and plaintiff was awarded $3,000,000 for her pain and suffering ($1,000,000 past – four years, $2,000,000 future – 55 years).
In Shepherd v. T.I.A. of New York, Inc. (2d Dept. 2017) both the liability and damages verdicts have been affirmed.
Ms. Shepherd, then 21 years old, sustained serious knee and ankle injuries, none of which are mentioned in the court’s decision. Here are the injury details:
- Left Knee – patella and fibular head fractures with dislocated joint, ruptured ligaments and peroneal nerve damage requiring open reduction internal fixation surgery with the insertion of a long surgical screw and washer
- Left Ankle -lateral malleolus and fibular fractures with compromised articular surface requiring open reduction internal fixation surgery with the insertion of a metal plate and seven screws
- 20 day hospital admission (discharged using wheelchair after which for several months plaintiff required a long leg brace, crutches and a cane which she relied upon for eight months and still uses from time to time
- Extensive physical therapy over five months
- Future surgery needed to remove surgical hardware to alleviate pain
- Post-traumatic arthritis in both the knee and ankle
- Future ankle fusion surgery
- Continuing pain and disabilities in knee and ankle leaving plaintiff unable to walk more than five blocks or stand for long periods or enjoy dancing or racquetball as she used to before the accident
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) – nightmares, irritability, social withdrawal and depression
The defense contended that plaintiff made a good recovery, she will not need ankle fusion surgery, over-the-counter medication could alleviate plaintiff’s pain completely and the PTSD claim was not significant (because plaintiff underwent only a few months of mental health treatment, never took any medication for PTSD and it had very little impact on her scholastic or career endeavors, or activities of daily living).
The jurors also awarded $350,000 for future medical expenses. This award was reduced on appeal to $17,800 because there was no adequate proof of future medical costs other than $17,800 for future orthopedic surgeries. Plaintiff argued on appeal that the award should be sustained because the jury must have included about $300,000 in medical expenses for future treatment of PTSD. In his closing argument, though, plaintiff’s attorney requested only $10,800 for the hardware removal surgery.
- At the time of the accident, plaintiff was a student at York College in Queens. She withdrew from classes for the spring semester and was unable to attend summer classes. She returned to college in September of 2011 and graduated two years later with a degree in accounting. At the time of trial, she was working two jobs – at a day care center in Brooklyn and for an accountant in Queens. There was no claim for lost earnings.
- In their closing arguments, defense counsel suggested a pain and suffering award of $150,000 while plaintiff’s counsel suggested the exact $3,000,000 awarded by the jury.
- Defense counsel argued on appeal that the pain and suffering award should be reduced to “under $1 million.”