On February 9, 2004 at about 9:30 a.m., Lillian Robinson parked her car across the street from her home on Van Buren Street in Brooklyn and was walking around the back of her car so she could cross the street. After taking one or two steps off the curb, she fell and was injured.
In her ensuing lawsuit, Ms. Robinson, then 64 years old, claimed that she fell because of a pothole in which snow and ice had accumulated and that the City of New York was negligent because it dug a hole that created the pothole years earlier and left it in a dangerous condition. The jurors agreed but they also found plaintiff substantially at fault (for not paying proper attention) and they apportioned liability 80% to plaintiff and 20% to defendant. They also awarded pain and suffering damages (before apportionment) in the sum of $150,000 (all past – seven and a half years).
Plaintiff appealed arguing that that the liability apportionment was against the weight of the evidence and that the damages award was inadequate.
In Robinson v. Brooklyn Union Gas Co. (2d Dept. 2018), the appellate court modified the liability split, assigning 55% to plaintiff and 45% to defendant. The court declined to increase the damages award, concluding that the jury’s verdict awarding zero damages for future pain and suffering was not contrary to the weight of the credible evidence.
Here are the injury details:
- comminuted displaced fractures of the tibia and fibula bones in left ankle
- open reduction internal fixation surgery with insertion of intramedullary nail and four screws
- confined to hospital for one month, then transferred to a long term facility for four more months confined to wheelchair
Plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that her fractures had healed but that she (a) has permanent swelling, weakness, pain and tenderness, (b) has permanent loss of range of motion and (c) walks with a limp. Defendant’s expert countered that plaintiff’s bones had healed well and were solid and she has no limp or difficulty walking or standing.
- Upon her return home from the rehabilitation center, Ms. Robinson returned to her job as a minister but claimed at trial that due to her injury and pain she had to lean or sit to preach. The defense, though, introduced photographs and videos of plaintiff preaching in 2010 and 2011, in which she was standing and walking about and argued that the discrepancy between this evidence and plaintiff’s trial testimony asserting the contrary provided a strong basis for the jury’s declining to credit plaintiff’s claims of ongoing pain or disability.
- Liability was sharply contested with plaintiff and a witness testifying that a year or two before the accident they saw workers digging holes in the street where she fell (that plaintiff claimed were then improperly or inadequately filled with asphalt); whereas the defendant claimed that plaintiff jaywalked across the middle of the block on a street with known depressions and ice but failed to look down as she did so.