On October 16, 2013, Mary Ann Greblewski tripped and fell over a concrete wheel stop in Highland Hospital’s parking garage in Rochester. Ms. Greblewski, then 80 years old, sustained shoulder injuries and sued the hospital claiming that the premises was dangerous because there was inadequate lighting in the garage and the wheel stop was improperly positioned, as it extended into the pedestrian walkway.
The hospital sought pre-trial dismissal of the case arguing that the wheel stop was in its proper position, the garage was adequately illuminated and, in any event, the wheel stop was open and obvious. The motion was denied and the case proceeded to trial at which the Chemung County jurors found the hospital fully at fault for the accident and they awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $550,000 ($250,000 past – three years, $300,000 future – 10 years).
The trial judge determined that the award was excessive and ordered a reduction to $225,000. In Greblewski v. Strong Health MCO, LLC (3d Dept. 2018), the liability verdict was affirmed and the jury’s $550,000 award was reinstated.
After she fell, plaintiff was taken by stretcher to the emergency room where x-rays of her left shoulder disclosed that she’d sustained a four-part fracture of her proximal humerus.
Initially treated with a sling for six weeks and assisted by home health aides, Ms. Greblewski then underwent a 12 week course of physical therapy. At the time of trial, she was still in some pain but had significant deficits and disabilities including:
- permanent range of motion losses in shoulder (e.g., can only lift arm to 110 degrees out of a possible 180 degrees)
- limited strength in her left hand
- difficulty curling her hair, bathing and getting dressed
- unable to provide same level of care to her disabled adult daughter as she used to for almost 60 years
A significant element of of the damages testimony presented at trial was plaintiff’s loss of enjoyment of life and emotional pain and suffering caused by her inability to care for her daughter Cathy who has had cerebral palsy since birth, is confined to a wheelchair and requires assistance with all activities of daily living. Plaintiff had been Cathy’s primary caregiver – “her greatest joy and greatest duty.”
The defense argued that the trial judge’s reduction of the damages award did not go far enough because plaintiff did not require shoulder surgery (she was not a good candidate due to her age). In response, plaintiff argued that the fact that she was not a surgical candidate does not diminish the value of her case; rather, it enhances it because plaintiff did not have the option of surgical intervention to help her regain mobility in her shoulder joint.
- The day before her accident, Ms. Greblewski, along with her husband and two adult daughters, had driven from Elmira to a Rochester hotel as she was scheduled to undergo early the next morning an outpatient vulvectomy for vulva cancer at the defendant’s hospital. After she was treated for her shoulder in the ER, Ms. Greblewski opted to undergo the vulvectomy. She was cleared for surgery, underwent the procedure successfully and was discharged the next day with instructions to follow up with a local orthopedic surgeon.
- The trial judge instructed the jury that plaintiff’s life expectancy, according to federal government statistics, was 7.1 years; however, he also told the jurors that the figure was not binding upon them and they may consider it together with their own experience and the evidence they heard regarding the condition of plaintiff’s health, habits and activities. In doing so, the jury set plaintiff’s future pain and suffering period at 10 years.
- In summations, defense counsel contended that the hospital was not negligent but that if the jury should disagree then $30,000 for plaintiff’s pain and suffering would be fair; plaintiff’s counsel suggested $500,000.