On January 6, 2015, Kenia Cabrera had just finished work at a Dunkin Donuts shop located at LaGuardia Airport and had returned to the employee parking lot to retrieve her car and go home. As she was exiting the lot, a Mack truck spreading salt to keep the lot free of ice struck her car.

Ms. Cabrera, then 40 years old, refused medical attention at the scene of her accident; she went to her primary care physician the next day complaining of neck and back pain. She sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the owner of the salt-spreader truck) claiming serious personal injuries.

A Bronx County jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of  $16,000,000 ($4,000,000 past – three and a half years, $12,000,000 future – three years). The trial judge ordered a new trial on damages to be held in part because the $12,000,000 future damages award was excessive. In  Cabrera v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J. (1st Dept. 2020), the appellate court went further ordering that a new trial be held on both liability (and damages) because of errors by the trial judge as to evidence issues.

Here are the injury details:

  • L5-S1 annular tear with 4/2 /15 lumbar fusion surgery to remove bone and place hardware to prevent displacement
  • C4-5 herniated disc with cervical fusion surgery to remove disc and place hardware on 3/1/16
  • required walker for three months after back surgery and was out of work for several months
  • continuing pain and restricted ranges of motion

Defendant argued that the vehicle impact was low speed and minor, plaintiff sustained no traumatic injuries from the accident, she returned to work after the accident (and made no loss of earnings claims), waited two weeks after seeing her doctor before seeking any further medical treatment and that there was “no medically indicative reason why the plaintiff underwent either surgery.”

Inside Information:

  • In his closing argument, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $4,000,000 for past pain and suffering and $12,000,000 for the future – the exact amounts they awarded.
  • Inexplicably, the jury awarded future damages for three years only, despite plaintiff’s life expectancy of 41 years.