On October 1, 2012, Arianna Garcia was driving her car through an intersection in Middletown when she was struck by a car whose driver who failed to stop at a stop sign. Garcia, then 31 years old, was granted summary judgment as to liability and the matter proceeded to a trial on damages only.

The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $300,000 ($150,000 past – three years, $150,000 future – 46 years). The defendants (driver and owner) argued that the award was excessive; the trial judge agreed and ordered a reduction to $125,000 ($50,000 past, $75,000 future).

In Garcia v. Fernandez (2d Dept. 2018), the appellate court reversed the trial judge’s order, held that $300,000 for pain and suffering damages is a reasonable amount in this case and upheld the jury’s $300,000 verdict.

Here are details of plaintiff’s injuries:

  • nondisplaced fracture of the base of her second metacarpal (index finger) in her non-dominant wrist with capitate contusion, requiring a brace for six months

  • herniated discs at C3-4 and C5-6 with C-5 radiculopathy
  • shoulder impingement
  • concussion with severe migraine headaches (that developed in 2014)
  • ongoing and continuing pain, limitations and loss of range of motion in both wrist and cervical spine

Plaintiff testified that she was left with difficulties dressing herself, fixing her own hair and doing simple chores such as taking out the trash or washing dishes and unable to resume a very active lifestyle that included running (45 minutes a day), hiking and dancing.  Her treating orthopedic surgeon stated that her injuries are permanent, significant and unlikely to subside in the future. Her expert neurosurgeon concluded plaintiff sustained a 75% partial disability to her cervical spine.

The defendants’ expert orthopedic surgeon testified that plaintiff sustained neither a fracture nor a herniated disc (though he did admit that her MRI showed “more than a bulge”); however, the jury specifically found that there was in fact a fracture.

The defendants argued that the trial judge’s reduction did not go far enough and that the award should be reduced to $30,000 for past pain and suffering only (and zero for the future). They noted that plaintiff:

  • had physical therapy and chiropractic treatment for just one year (mostly for her neck)
  • had no surgery or injections
  • was out of work (as a paralegal) for only one week and was working full-time within two weeks
  • treated with her hand specialist for just three times (with her last treatment within three months of the accident), received no medical treatment for her injuries in 2015 and had no future related medical appointments or plans to be treated
  • last saw her treating orthopedic surgeon three years before trial so his opinion as to permanence was therefore speculative

Inside Information:

  • Initial wrist x-rays did not disclose a fracture; six weeks after the accident an MRI revealed the fracture.
  • The defendant driver did not have a valid driver’s license (never had one) and was given a ticket for driving without a license.
  • Plaintiff’s employer is the law firm that represented her in this case, Sobo & Sobo, a preeminent firm in Orange County.