On June 24, 2014, Nelly Lara was injured when the car she was  driving was hit in the rear while she was stopped at a red light at the intersection of 51st Avenue and Corona Avenue in Queens.

Ms. Lara, a 67 year old retired hairdresser, obtained an order granting summary judgment as to full liability against the other driver and owner. The matter then proceeded to a trial on damages only.

The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $50,000 ($10,000 past – four years, $40,000 future – 15 years). Plaintiff appealed claiming that the award was inadequate and should be increased to $3,000,000.

In Lara v. Arevalo (2d Dept. 2022), the pain and suffering damages award was increased on appeal to $125,000 ($50,000 past, $75,000 future).

Here are the injuries that plaintiff claimed were caused by the accident:

  • Knee – torn meniscus requiring arthroscopic partial meniscectomy and partial synovectomy
  • Shoulder – rotator cuff and glenoid labrum tears and impingement requiring arthroscopic surgery
  • Neck -herniated disc that required cervical discectomy and fusion surgery on 10/7/16

Plaintiff claimed she’d need substantial medical treatment in the future, based on a life care plan testified to by her expert. The jury disagreed and awarded only $15,000 for future medical expenses.

The defense argued that the accident was a minor fender-bender with little vehicle damage that could not have caused any of the claimed injuries. Furthermore, their medical expert contended that any injuries plaintiff did sustain were the result of pre-existing conditions such as arthritis and degeneration. Finally, they noted that the doctor treating plaintiff for her neck pain discharged her after nine months because her neck pain was “gone” and she did not seek any further neck treatment for more than a year thereafter.

Plaintiff had no prior symptoms and her testifying physicians stated that all of the claimed injuries and treatment were caused by the accident, which left her with permanent range of motion losses, pain and partial disabilities as to daily activities.

Inside Information:

  • The defendant driver did not attend the trial having moved to Texas after the accident; his pre-trial deposition transcript was read to the jury.
  • In his summation, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $3,500,000 for pain and  suffering; defense counsel suggested $20,000.

On April 12, 2011, Galo Guaman was working at a construction site at One Whitehall Street in Manhattan, He was using a crowbar to remove a door frame when he was injured.

One Whitehall Street, NYC

Mr. Guaman sued the budling owner and construction manager claiming that their violations of Labor Law Sections 200, 240(1) and 241(6) caused his injuries. The jury agreed and then awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $200,000 (all past – eight years).

Plaintiff appealed arguing that the damages award was inadequate. In Guaman v. One Whitehall, L.P. (2d Dept. 2022), the verdict was affirmed.

Plaintiff claimed that in his accident a cinder block hit him on his shoulder and that as a result he sustained extensive and multiple injuries including:

  • Hand – crush injury to third finger with lacerations and a comminuted distal phalanx fracture requiring surgery to repair on 4/12/11; treated and released from emergency room on night of accident; a few months of follow-up treatment
  • Shoulder – impingement syndrome requiring arthroscopic surgeries in 2013 and 2015; permanent pain and restrictions of range of motion
  • Spine – herniated disc at L5-S1 requiring decompressive laminectomy and partial discectomy on 10/27/15; permanent pain and restrictions of range of motion

On November 19, 2011, seven months after his construction site accident, plaintiff fell down 10 stairs at his home and sustained several injuries, including a skull fracture and subdural hematoma, requiring emergency hospital admission for 17 days. Plaintiff had no recall of the stairway fall but argued that it was part of this case because he was dizzy from the earlier accident.

The defense noted that (a) plaintiff’s only complaint at the hospital for his first accident was related to his hand, (b) the hospital record states he was cut by metal at work and makes no mention of the cinder block and (c) any injuries to body parts other than his hand are unrelated to the construction site accident. Plaintiff countered that he had indeed injured his spine and shoulder in the first accident and that those injuries were not in the hospital record either because of a language barrier (he is Spanish speaking) or because he was in shock and worried he’d lose his finger. And, he points to the fact that he did mention these other injuries  to a physician a few weeks later.

Apparently agreeing with the defense, the jury awarded nothing at all for future pain and suffering or future medical expenses despite the fact that plaintiff’s pain and disabilities related to his back and shoulder were ongoing and that an expert testified they are permanent and plaintiff (40 years old at trial) will need more surgery and incur substantial future medical expenses in the sum of $1,700,000 over his lifetime.

Inside Information:

  • In his summation, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award pain and suffering damages in the sum of $11,500,000. Defense counsel said: “… this case starts and ends in the emergency room at New York Downtown Hospital on the evening of April 12, 2011. Anything else that’s claimed, I submit to you, has no bearing on my clients’ liability. None.”
  • Plaintiff claimed he could no longer work but he made no claim for loss of earnings.


On June 1, 2012, Deborah Ormond was injured when she tripped over a raised and uneven piece of sidewalk next to a metal subway grate in front of 390 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.

Ms. Ormond successfully sued the city transit authority claiming that defendant was negligent in the maintenance of the sidewalk. The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $2,900,000 ($1,300,000 past – seven years, $1,600,000 future – 10 years).

The defendant appealed arguing that (a) the trial judge improperly instructed the jury as to the application of a city code applicable to the differences in elevation between adjacent sidewalk flags (as opposed to a grating), (b) the jury should have apportioned some fault to plaintiff and (c) the damages award was excessive.

In Ormond v. MTA/New York City Transit Authority (2d Dept. 2022), the liability verdict was affirmed but the appellate court agreed that the damages award was excessive and the panel ordered that the pain and suffering award should be reduced to $1,700,000 ($1,000,000 past, $700,000 future).

The decision does not include any information as to the plaintiff’s injuries. Here are the injury details:

  • torn meniscus in both knees with constant pain
  • herniated cervical and lumbar discs in spine with daily pain
  • unable to resume recreational sports activities and needs cane to go up and down the 25 stairs to her second floor apartment

Plaintiff, 54 years old at the time of her accident, underwent extensive treatment to her knees and both parts of her spine that consisted of physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, five epidural steroid injections and pain management. Her orthopedic surgeon concluded that she would require bilateral total knee replacement surgeries. As of the trial date, though, plaintiff had not undergone any surgery at all.

The defense orthopedic expert opined that plaintiff’s two meniscal tears were not related to her fall and that her spinal complaints were related to degeneration not trauma. In arguing for a significant reduction of the jury’s award, defendant highlighted both the fact that plaintiff never had surgery  (“if the pain had been bad enough, a surgeon would have performed the surgery”) and that plaintiff missed only one day of work because of her injuries.

The jury also awarded plaintiff $160,000 for future medical expenses which is the amount her expert physician estimated for the total knee replacement surgeries. The defendant did not challenge this award.

Inside Information:

  • While the appellate court ordered a significant reduction of the jury’s pain and suffering award, the final amount – $1,700,000 – is at the high end for a case like this with no surgery. The firm of Burns & Harris has once again achieved an outstanding result.

On July 13, 2011, Bohdan Vitenko was swimming laps at the city owned and operated Lyons swimming pool in Staten Island. He and his friends were training by swimming underwater as much of the length of the Olympic-sized pool as they could without breathing, immediately followed by attempting to remain underwater as long as they could while holding their breath. During the exercise, Bohdan lost consciousness in three and a half feet of water and died.

Lyons Pool

Bohdan’s sole distributee, his mother Malvina Vitenko, sued the city for wrongful death claiming that the city was negligent in failing to have an adequate number of lifeguards or provide adequate training to them. The Richmond County jury found that the city was negligent in not providing training to lifeguards with regard to this tragic incident of shallow water blackout (which occurs if a swimmer repeatedly hyperventilates and then holds his breath). The jury apportioned liability 70% to the city and 30% to Bohdan.

The jury found that plaintiff sustained pecuniary damages in the sum of $ 1,490,000 ($440,000 past – six years, $1,050,000 future – 15 years). The trial judge ruled that the awards were excessive and reduced the total to $518,000 ($308,000 past, $210,000 future). The judge also reduced the future period of years from 15 to three.

In Vitenko v. City of New York (2d Dept. 2022), the liability verdict has been affirmed but the appellate court determined that the trial judge’s damages reduction went too far and the panel held that the proper pecuniary damages award is $708,000 ($308,000 past, $400,000 future).

Under New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law 5-4.3, damages may be awarded for wrongful death to compensate the decedent’s distributees for the “pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent’s death.” To prevail, there must be proof that the distributee(s) had a reasonable expectation of support (such as financial payments or household assistance) from the decedent and therefore a pecuniary loss.

Here, plaintiff’s mother claimed that her 21 year old son had worked part-time in the family woodworking business and that he helped in the house especially with raising and taking care of his nine year old brother. The defense argued that the evidence of pecuniary loss was not only insufficient but entirely speculative noting that Bohdan was a full-time college student, had worked in the family business only on limited occasions and there was no substantial proof that his absence from the business caused any financial loss.

Inside Information:

  • One of Bohdan’s friends, Jonathan Proce, also drowned that day due to shallow water blackout. His case was settled for $600,000.
  • The only persons who testified in the damages phase of the trial were Bohdan’s mother and his step-father (who ran the family business).
  • There was no award for pre-death conscious pain and suffering; plaintiff conceded that Bohdan had passed out and was unconscious when he drowned



On December 25, 2015 at about 2 a.m., Raul Matos and Stephen Hiraldo were involved in a fight outside their apartment building at 161 West 108th Street in Manhattan. Mr. Matos, then 36 years old, claimed that Mr. Hiraldo punched him in the back of his head causing him to fall down stairs and sustain injuries. Mr. Hiraldo claimed he acted in self-defense.

In the ensuing lawsuit against Mr. Hiraldo, the jury determined that both parties were equally at fault for the incident and they awarded pain and suffering damages (before apportionment) in the sum of $250,000 ($125,000 past –  six years, $125,000 future – 35 years).

In Matos v. Hiraldo (1st Dept. 2022), the judgment has been affirmed.

Here are the injury details:

  • bilateral jaw fractures (left mandible and right subcondylar)
  • open reduction internal fixation surgery to place plate and screws in mandible
  • second procedure four months later to unwire and remove hardware
  • continuing numbness and pain

Inside Information:

  • Defendant was charged with misdemeanor assault; he pled guilty to disorderly conduct, a simple violation.
  • In his summation, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award damages in the sum of $500,000.


On June 4, 2013, New York City Taxi and Limousine Inspector Laurence Deguilme activated his vehicle’s emergency lights pulled over  a taxicab on Third Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets in Manhattan. After speaking to the taxicab’s operator and in the process of opening the driver’s side door of his TLC vehicle in order to enter and write citations,  Mr. Deguilme, then 41 years old, was struck by a city bus and injured.

In Mr. Deguilme’s ensuing lawsuit against the bus driver and owner (the transit authority), the jury determined that the driver was at fault for the accident and they awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $1,055,000 ($740,000 past – six years, $315,000 future – 10 years) plus past lost earnings in the sum of $260,000.

In Deguilme v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2022), the judgment entered upon the verdict (reduced by 20% due to plaintiff’s comparative negligence) has been affirmed.

Here are the injury details:


  • significant bimalleolar fracture of ankle with displaced transverse fractures of the distal fibula and medial malleolus
  • open reduction internal fixation surgery of ankle with insertion of a plate, rod and screws
  • second ankle surgery to remove hardware and repair tearing of tendon
  • continuing and permanent  pain, and loss of range of motion
  • unable to play tennis, snowboard or jog


  • fractures of ulnar styloid, ring finger and hamate, triquetrum and lunate bones
  • treated with splint and therapy
  • continuing and chronic swelling and pain in wrist with permanent loss of range of motion and significantly diminished grip strength

About five months after the accident, plaintiff went back to a part-time job as a restaurant floor manager; however, he was unable to return to his more strenuous job with the TLC.

Inside Information:

  • In his summation, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award pain and suffering damages in the sum of $1,750,000. He made no claim for future loss of earnings.
  • In her summation, defendants’ attorney focused on liability arguing (unsuccessfully) that plaintiff was fully at fault. She made no suggestion as to an amount for pain and suffering damages.

In March 2009, Rakefet Grullon was admitted to a hospital in Manhasset following the sudden onset of symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling of the neck. A CT scan revealed a very large mass, and a biopsy of the mass confirmed the diagnosis of lymphoma.

Ms. Grullon, then 33 years old, was treated with the administration of  chemotherapy via a mediport which was implanted in her chest wall and accessed  with a  needle in order to deliver the  medications. Shortly after beginning the administration of Adriamycin, the needle became displaced and the toxic drug was infused into tissue surrounding the mediport, causing injuries.

In Ms. Grullon’s  ensuing lawsuit against the doctor who supervised the procedure (and his practice), the Queens County jury determined on 6/23/17 that the doctor departed from good and accepted medical practice by not sending plaintiff to interventional radiology to confirm that the needle was adequately positioned. The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $800,000 (all past – eight years).

The defendants argued in a post-trial motion that the jury verdict on liability was against the weight of the evidence and a judgment should be entered in their favor dismissing the complaint. The motion was denied. They also argued that the pain and suffering award was excessive and should be reduced. That aspect of their motion was granted and the trial judge ordered a reduction of the pain and suffering damages to $200,000.

The defendants appealed but in Grullon v. Thoracic Surgical, P.C. (2d Dept. 2022), the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s order.

Here are the injury details:

  • chemical burn resulting in necrosis of 3 inch diameter area of fatty tissue on chest
  • purple-red discoloration of skin
  • emotional discomfort
  • pain requiring Neurontin

Plaintiff testified that the affected area was very painful during the first year with gradual improvement since then with less pain each day.

Plaintiff claimed she has limitations in strength and range of motion in her right arm but since the date of her chemotherapy treatment, she never had any treatment for her right arm at all and she offered no medical testimony as to any range of motion or strength limitations in her arm.

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff did not assert a claim for future pain and suffering damages.
  • This was the second trial of the same case; there was a mistrial in 2014 (for reasons not relevant to this appeal).


On June 6, 2016, at about 7:30 a.m., Barry Schneider was operating a motorized scooter at the intersection of two roads in Great Neck when he was struck by a turning car that failed to yield the right of way. Mr. Schneider, a 69 year-old accountant, was seriously injured and died four days later on June 10th.

Mr. Schneider’s widow sued both the other driver and the town (which was responsible for placing the stop line at the intersection and for maintaining the vegetation in the surrounding area). The Nassau County jury determined that both parties were at fault – the other driver, for violating the decedent’s right of way and the town, for allowing the vegetation to overgrow and block drivers’ views of the intersection.

The jury awarded damages for pre-death pain and suffering in the sum of $2,000,000 and the award was affirmed on appeal in Schneider v. Hanasab (2d Dept. 2022).

Here are the injury details:

  • emergency transport to hospital where he was intubated and administered morphine for pain
  • fractures of clavicle, scapula and nine ribs; hemothorax
  • serious internal bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions and placement of chest tube
  • extensive bruising and hematoma
  • fatal episode of respiratory distress due to blunt force trauma

The defendants argued that the pain and suffering award was excessive because Mr. Schneider’s pain was controlled with medication. Plaintiff’s medical expert, though, testified that Mr. Schneider was alert and conscious throughout his hospitalization, and endured difficulty breathing and extensive pain and suffering that was never fully regulated. The hospital record reflected that multiple times a day Mr. Schneider’s pain was six, seven and ten on a ten point scale (ten being the most severe pain).

Inside Information:

  • The jury also awarded $426,000 for seven and a half years of future loss of earnings, and $165,000 for medical expenses. These items were not challenged on appeal.

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.

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.

inside Information:

  • 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.