On May 8, 2018, Irina Rifman was bathing in her apartment in Syracuse when she was scalded by extremely hot water flowing from her bathtub faucet. Ms. Rifman, then 78 years old, was unable to turn the water off due to difficulty operating the faucet handle and was unable to immediately exit the tub due to a lack of handicap assistive devices.

In her ensuing lawsuit against the owner of the apartment complex, plaintiff argued that the defendant should be held liable for plaintiff’s injuries because the hot water tank servicing plaintiff’s apartment was set too high.

In a non-jury trial, the judge ruled that defendant’s negligence caused the accident. The Onondoga County  judge assessed pain and suffering damages  in the sum of $632,000 ($450,000 past – two years and seven months, $182,000 future – 9.1 years).

The defendant appealed claiming that (a) the judge should have dismissed the case because plaintiff had not proved prior notice of any issue with the hot water temperature and (b) the future pain and suffering award was excessive.

In Spivak-Bobko v. Gregory Arms, LLC (4th Dept. 2022),  liability against the defendant was affirmed but the future pain and suffering award was reduced to $100,000.

Here are the injury details:

  • second degree burns to buttocks, anal and vaginal areas
  • admitted to hospital burn unit for three weeks, then to a rehabilitation center for a month
  • continuing pain and discomfort in burned areas especially when sitting or trying to sleep
  • permanent dry skin and itching sensation requiring frequent lifetime moisturizing

The defense argued that the future pain and suffering award was not only excessive but also speculative in view of the fact that plaintiff’s treating doctor testified that her burn wounds had fully healed in July 2018 and she had not treated for her injuries since then.

Inside Information:

  • The case was tried virtually by video conferencing and without a jury (as the defendant did not request one).
  • Plaintiff was a Russian speaker who required an interpreter at trial.
  • The cases referred to by the appellate court all deal with catastrophic paralysis injuries and have nothing to do with burn injuries; it is unclear why the court cited them as a basis to reduce the future pain and suffering award.