On September 27, 2011 at about 9 a.m., Alfonso Rojas was driving along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens on his way to to work when a piece of metal flew off the elevated structure of the No. 7 train above. It penetrated through the car’s windshield and struck Mr. Rojas’s right arm causing extensive damage.
The defendant transit authorities conceded liability for the accident and in January 2016 the natter proceeded to a trial on damages only in Queens County.
The jury returned a pain and suffering verdict in the sum of $1,800,000 ($800,000 past – 4 1/3 years, $1,000,000 future – 15 years). Defendants challenged the award as excessive but it was affirmed on appeal in Rojas v. New York City Transit Authority (2d Dept. 2019).
As set forth in the court’s decision, the 39 year old auto mechanic suffered a complex laceration of his right forearm with a soft tissue deficit. Here are the injury details:
- the metal sliced plaintiff’s arm open from his wrist to his elbow with visible bone and muscle, extensive bleeding and excruciating pain
- after passersby bandaged plaintiff’s wound at the scene, he was taken by ambulance to Elmhurst Hospital where he was admitted for two weeks and underwent two surgeries
- after 3 days of immobilization, Rojas underwent his first surgery under general anesthesia to remove dead skin in his arm, after which it was placed in a brace connected to a machine that applied pressure to his degloved right arm
- five days layer, Rojas underwent his second surgery involving grafting skin from his right thigh onto his right arm
- after the surgeries, plaintiff remained at the hospital for another week, bedridden on morphine and antibiotics
- at home, Rojas was confined to his bed or chair for the most part of the day, unable to bathe himself or perform other personal hygiene functions for two weeks
- physical therapy, 2-3 times a week for two months to try to gain strength in his arm and hand, was discontinued when doctors told him there was nothing more they could do for him and he was left with diminished grip strength and significant pain; after January 2012 plaintiff never sought any further medical treatment fore his injuries
- plaintiff claims continuing pain, his arm remains weak and he is unable to do housework or engage in recreational soccer like he used to and he wears an elastic bandage on his arm for support and to cover his large embarrassing scars
Plaintiff’s expert hand surgeon testified that he has a permanent curved defect on his right forearm from his wrist to his elbow with an irregular dark scar, with no ability for the skin on his right arm to withstand shear, no sweat glands, significant permanent range of motion losses and a dominant arm that is three times weaker than his non-dominant arm. An expert plastic surgeon testified for the defense and opined that plaintiff had the ability to use his hand and arm without any significant restrictions.
- Plaintiff returned to work after two months, albeit on light duty with help from his co-workers lifting heavy objects and holding tools with his right hand. He did not pursue a lost earnings claim.