On July 3, 2012, a New Rochelle police officer drove his official vehicle into the rear of another vehicle. Edward Carter, a passenger in the other vehicle, sued both drivers for his personal injuries. A Westchester jury ruled that both drivers were at fault.
In a separate damages only trial, the jury determined that plaintiff sustained both permanent consequential and significant limitations and the jury awarded Mr. Carter pain and suffering damages in the sum of $5,000 (all past – seven years) plus past medical expenses of $10,000.. Mr. Carter, then 50 years old, claimed that the jury awards were inadequate and he appealed.
In Carter v. City of New Rochelle (2d Dept. 2022), the appellate court ruled that the pain and suffering award should be increased to $180,000 ($80,000 past, $100,000 future) and that the medical expenses award should be increased to $140,000 ($40,000 past, $100,000 future)
Here are the injury details:
- treated on day of accident at local hospital complaining of right shoulder and right side pain; given Motrin and released that day
- three months treatment with chiropractor
- arthroscopic surgery six months after the accident to repair rotator cuff and labral tears in shoulder
After his shoulder surgery, plaintiff recovered well and conceded he had no shoulder problems anymore (though at trial he claimed his pain returned and he had significantly reduced range of motion).
Plaintiff’s most significant clams at trial were related to his spine. After a diagnosis of herniated discs and treatment with epidural steroid injections, plaintiff underwent cervical fusion surgery in February 2015 and lumbar fusion surgery four months after that. At trial, plaintiff walked with the aid of a cane, remained under the care of a spinal pain management physician and claimed he was greatly restricted in terms of activities of daily living and would need substantial future medical care.
The defense argued that plaintiff had a host of pre-existing conditions (including chronic degenerative disc disease secondary to morbid obesity, diabetic neuropathy and arthritis) and that the accident did not cause spinal pain or the need for spinal surgery. The trial judge agreed stating that plaintiff had been disabled prior to the accident.
- The accident was recorded on the police officer’s dash cam and the defense argued it was clear this was a minor fender-bender.
- Plaintiff had a shoulder injury from weight lifting seven years before this accident but testified he had no prior shoulder injury.
- In closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $5,000,000 while defense counsel argued that plaintiff’s injuries did not meet the statutory threshold under CPLR 5102 and therefore the jury should award no damages at all.