On March 21, 2009,  43-year-old Gloria Bonila died as a result of injuries sustained in a fire at the Riverview IRA, a state-run home for mentally disabled individuals in Wells, New York.

The Riverview IRA fire scene.

A claim against the state was filed on behalf of Ms. Bonila seeking damages. Claimant was granted and an appellate court affirmed  summary judgment on liability. The mater then proceeded to a trial on damages following which the Court of Claims judge awarded $4,000,000 for 3 1/2 hours of pre-death pain and suffering. The case was appealed because the parties disagreed on the amount of post-judgment interest to be added to the pain and suffering award.

In Davila v. State of New York  (3rd Dept. 2020), the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s determnination as to the amount and manner of calculating post-judgment interest. The award thus stood at $5,350,000 ($4,000,000 for pre-death pain and suffering, $1,299,000 for pre-judgment ineterst and $51,000 for post-judgment interest).

Ms. Bonilla was a long time resident of the home functioning in the profound range of mental retardation. She was non-verbal and not self-preserving, meaning she could not get herself out of harm’s way. After a fire alarm was activated at 5:25 a.m. on the morning of the fire, Ms. Bonilla was escorted from her bedroom to a mudroom but was never evacuated from there in time to save her life. The fire fully engulfed the building and was not brought under control for more than two hours until about 8:05 a.m. following which Ms. Bonila was found in the remains of the mudroom still alive, moving under some debris. The trial judge determined that the decedent was conscious at a level experiencing pain for at least 3 hours and 38 minutes, from 5:30 a.m. until 9:08 a.m.

Here are the injury details:

  • When she was first found at the scene, Ms. Bonila was moaning, as if in pain, and turning her head from side to side with her eyes open. She was wet with smoke and steam coming from her.
  • Arriving EMS personnel found first, second and third degree burns over 80-90% of her body with her hands burned so badly that the finger bones were exposed and the flesh was totally gone.
  • When her clothes were being cut off at the scene, Ms. Bonila was screaming and fighting.
  • When Ms. Bonila was taken away from the scene on a backboard at 8:12 a.m., she was breathing on her own, thrashing around and moaning.
  • She was moved to an EMS helicopter at 9:02 a.m. where it was noted she was in severe pain and restless, then unresponsive after which she was intubated but still responsive to pain until about 9:08 a.m. when she had no pulse and her heart stopped. Resuscitation efforts continued. A doctor declared Ms. Bonila dead at the hospital at 9:59 a.m.

Inside Information:

  • Three other developmentally disabled resident of Riverview IRA died from the fire along with Ms. Bonilla.
  • The trial judge described this as a case of “unimaginable conscious pain and suffering” with “no other cases truly comparable to the facts of this case.”
  • Pre-judgment interest accrued from 5/30/14, the date of the liability determination against the defendant.