On March 14, 2013 John Gore was stopped at a red light in Pleasantville when a car from behind, driven by Melissa Cardany, struck his car. Mr Gore, then 47 years old, was taken by ambulance to the local hospital where he complained of pain in his neck, back and left shoulder.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Gore was in the course of his employment, driving several teenage residents of Jewish Childcare Association in Pleasantville (pictured above).

Gore sued the other driver seeking money damages for his pain and suffering, lost earnings and medical expenses related to the accident. On November 5, 2014, he was granted summary judgment as to liability and the matter proceeded to a trial on damages only.

The Westchester County jury determined that plaintiff’s injuries did not meet any of the threshold categories under Insurance Law Section 5102 and they accordingly awarded him nothing at all for pain and suffering (or future medial expenses). They did, though award him damages for  lost earnings in the sum of $906,000 ($156,000 past – three years, $750,000 future – 15 years).

The defendant made a post-trial motion asking the judge to set aside the verdict and direct judgment in her favor as a matter of law or, alternatively, to direct a new trial. Essentially, the defendant argued that because the jury found that plaintiff had not sustained a permanent or significant injury, and was not entitled to any future medical expense award, the award of $906,000 for lost earnings was speculative and there should be no lost earnings award at all. Plaintiff, who never returned to work  (he’d been a residential supervisor at a home for at risk teenagers) argued that there was sufficient medical testimony to establish that he was disabled and permanently unable to perform his job duties.

The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion and set aside the verdict as to all damages.

In Gore v. Cardany (2d Dept. 2018), the appellate court reinstated the award for past lost earnings in the sum of $156,000 while affirming the trial judge’s decision to vacate the award for future damages.

Here are the injury details:

  • treated and released from the ER on the day of the accident and same five days later at a different hospital
  • chiropractic treatment began 11 days after the accident and continued for about two years
  • three epidural injections in lower back and neck in connection with bulging discs
  • left shoulder arthroscopic surgery on 4/29/14

Defense doctors testified that plaintiff’s shoulder complaints were degenerative and pre-existing (in view of osteophytes as shown on an MRI) and he was not disabled either before or after his surgery which was merely a shaving of the congenitally deformed acromion and a debridement of some inflamed tissue. They also contended that plaintiff’s neck and back complaints were non-accident related, degenerative and typical for a man of plaintiff’s age. Post-trial, Plaintiff did not contest the jury’s findings as to Insurance Law Section 5102 and their resulting decision to award no damages for pain and suffering.

Plaintiff had been earning $52,000 a year and his job entailed supervising adolescents but there was no testimony that it involved heavy labor or heavy lifting and none of his doctors testified that they advised him to stop working permanently. Plaintiff testified that his position had been eliminated about six months after the accident and his on-line searches for new employment had been fruitless.

Inside Information:

  • Defense counsel argued in his summation that plaintiff was entitled to no award at all for any damages; plaintiff’s counsel requested $450,000 for pain and suffering damages plus $900,000 for lost earnings.
  • There was no expert vocational rehabilitation testimony.

On October 3, 2011, Jessica Iovino was a pedestrian crossing a street in Brooklyn when the side mirror of a left turning vehicle struck her left arm.

In her ensuing lawsuit, a Kings County jury found that the accident was fully the fault of the driver and the matter then proceeded to a trial on damages only. The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $25,000 (past only – two and a half years).

The trial judge denied plaintiff’s post-trial motion seeking a new trial on damages and in Iovino v. Kaplan (2d Dept. 2016), the appellate court affirmed the judgment.

As indicated in the decisions, plaintiff underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left shoulder but there was a dispute as to whether plaintiff required the surgery because of a torn labrum or whether she merely had mild bursitis (and the surgery was not required).

LabralTear_LG

In addition, since this case implicated New York’s “No Fault Law” (Insurance Law Section 5102), in order to recover any damages at all for pain and suffering, plaintiff had to prove that her injuries met at least one of the so-called nine threshold categories. The jury found she had not sustained a permanent  consequential limitation or a significant limitation of use of her left shoulder injury, only that she was unable to perform her usual and customary activities for 90 out of the 180 days after the accident.

The impact did not knock Ms. Iovino to the ground but it did cause immediate excruciating pain in her arm and shoulder. Ms. Iovino declined an ambulance and her mother came from their home a few blocks away and they walked home together. The next day, she sought emergency room treatment at the local hospital where her shoulder was examined, she was given a prescription for pain medication and she was advised to follow up with a doctor should her pain persist.

Plaintiff  treated with two orthopedic surgeons – first, about a week after the accident, with David R. Capiola, M.D. and thereafter with Dov Berkowitz, M.D. Dr. Capiola recommended physical therapy (which plaintiff underwent for a month) and an MRI (which was performed on October 20, 2011). Plaintiff switched to Dr. Berkowitz about five weeks after the accident; he too prescribed physical therapy but found significant range of motion deficits and recommended surgery which Ms. Iovino underwent on December 28, 2011.

Much of the dispute as to whether the surgery was needed centered around the MRI which, both Dr. Berkowitz and defendant’s experts agreed, did not show a labral tear. Nonetheless, Dr. Berkowitz testified that he recommended the surgery based upon plaintiff’s continuing pain, decreasing range of motion and positive results from both a Neer’s test and an O’Brien’s test. And, the doctor testified that during the surgery he actually saw the labral tear.

Tests

The defense expert orthopedic surgeon, Edward Toriello, M.D., testified that the surgery was not needed, there was no labral tear (at most, some minor fraying) and plaintiff sustained merely a shoulder strain and bursitis that had resolved.

Ms. Iovino, a 35 year old executive assistant for a private equity firm, missed one week of work after the accident, then lost her job but returned to a similar job a month after her surgery and at trial was still working there. When asked about her current condition, she testified that she takes over-the-counter medications to control daily shoulder pain but was able to work, was “not saying that I have a disability,” has “limitations as to what I can do” but can and does lift her three and seven year old children.

Inside Information:

  • In his closing argument, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $400,000 for past pain and suffering plus $800,000 for the future. Defense counsel suggested $15,000 for the past and nothing for the future.
  • The defense argued that plaintiff should have called Dr. Capiola as a witness since he treated plaintiff (a) before and after a prior accident in 2008 in which she sustained a right shoulder injury requiring surgery and (b) after the current accident. The trial judge agreed and included in his jury charge a so-called missing witness instruction advising the jurors that they may conclude Dr. Capiola’s testimony wouldn’t support the plaintiff’s position on the question of what her physical condition or injury was both before and after the current accident.
  • During trial, the attorneys argued over certain prospective evidentiary rulings being requested of the judge. At one point, the judge, Francois A. Rivera, admonished the attorneys for interrupting him and told them: “The next time either counsel interrupts the Court or each other, I am going to have to start considering whether sanctions are appropriate.” He then instructed the attorneys that upon their return to court the next day they were to produce and demonstrate their personal checkbooks and that he “would like the feel of it on the side of your jacket throughout the day so it makes it very easy for me to impose sanctions ….” No sanctions were ever imposed.

On September 19, 2013 Demetrio Vasquez was driving an SUV on Broadway through its intersection with 135th Street in Manhattan when a left-turning vehicle struck his driver’s side doors.

t bone

There was no question as to liability for the crash and the other driver’s insurance carrier, State Farm, paid its $25,000 policy limits to settle Mr. Vasquez’s claims for shoulder, neck and back injuries.

Mr. Vasquez, then 58 years old, was driving in the course of his employment as a supervisor for a building maintenance company which had in effect $1,000,000 of supplementary underinsured motorist (“SUM”) coverage with Hanover Insurance Company (here, a primer on SUM coverage from the New York State Bar Association).

Vasquez asserted a claim under the SUM policy for damages he allegedly sustained in excess of the $25,000 received from State Farm. The parties could not settle upon a reasonable additional amount for his claims so the matter had to be resolved under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association (the “AAA”).

At the AAA hearing on November 19, 2015, the only witness to testify was Mr. Vasquez (the “claimant”). Medical records were also submitted in evidence. Following the hearing, an arbitration decision was issued awarding nothing based upon the arbitrator’s findings that Mr. Vasquez had been adequately compensated by the $25,000 previously received and he testified falsely as to his injuries.

Vasquez sought to vacate the arbitration award and a Manhattan judge agreed with claimant that the award should be vacated because it failed to substantiate its findings and ignored medical records that showed a causal connection between the trauma and the injuries claimed.

In Hanover Ins. Co. v. Vasquez (1st Dept. 2016), the appellate court reversed and confirmed the award because (a) it was “rationally supported by the record” and (b) there was sufficient evidence that claimant’s injuries had resolved. Furthermore, the appellate judges upheld the arbitrator’s findings as to claimant’s lack of credibility.

Here are the details of the injury claims Mr. Vasquez asserted in this case:

  • Right Shoulder: extensive tear of subscapularis tendon, supraspinatus tendon, proximal biceps tendon and glenoid labrum, requiring arthroscopic surgery to repair the rotator cuff subscapularis tendon
  • Neck: disc herniation at C6-7
  • Back: disc herniations at L1-2 and L5-S1

shoulder

While medical records appeared to substantiate his injury claims, the arbitrator found that Mr. Vasquez testified falsely at the hearing as to substantial matters and that finding was the basis for her decision to award nothing.

false testimony

There was an issue as to whether claimant’s shoulder was injured at all in the crash in view of the facts that:

  1. he did not seek and medical attention at the scene and
  2. when he first sought treatment (a day later at an emergency room) records indicate that he complained only of neck and back pain

Claimant testified that photographs his girlfriend took showed bruises to his shoulder from the impact, bandages placed the next day at the hospital and “blood accumulated resulting from the hit, from the injury.” The arbitrator, though, examined claimant’s shoulder and it appeared to her that surgical scars she saw were the same as those on the photographs. She concluded that Vasquez falsely testified that the photographs were taken a day after the crash when in fact they were taken just after his shoulder surgery 10 months later.

Claimant’s false testimony led the arbitrator to conclude that his “willingness to lie under oath to advance his litigation claims severely tainted his credibility.” She stated that “an opinion as to proximate cause is necessarily at least partially reliant on the history of the onset and nature of the symptomatology.” Since claimant was “an exceptionally unreliable historian,” the arbitrator found that there was no causal connection between the accident and the shoulder injury.

The arbitrator stated that claimant’s material lie under oath warranted the application of the principle Falsus in Uno which permits the trier of fact to disregard completely the entire testimony of a witness who willfully testifies falsely as to an important material fact.

The arbitrator concluded:

I did not believe Claimant’s testimony about his complaints and disability immediately after the accident or at the present time. I did not believe the testimony about his inability to work … [or] that he was let go from work due to his physical condition … [or] that he accurately informed his treating doctors about his physical condition after the instant accident.

Inside Information:

  • In his closing argument, claimant’s attorney requested the arbitrator to award all ($975,000) or substantially all of the SUM benefits available after the $25,000 offset for the underlying settlement.
  • As set forth in claimant’s arbitration memo, Vasquez claimed (unsuccessfully) damages for lost earnings (in the sum of $363,560) and lost household services (in the sum of $135,732).

 

On August 8, 2010, Juana Santana was grocery shopping near the vegetable table at Western Beef Supermarket in Staten Island when she slipped, fell and injured her shoulder.

Western Beef at 425 Bay Street, in Staten Island

Claiming that her fall and injuries were due to the market’s negligence in allowing its employees to manually spray the vegetables with water which then dripped onto the floor,  the retired 68 year old Ms. Santana sued.

Defendant offered only one witness during the liability phase of the trial  – a manager who was not working at the market at the time of the accident. The witness was precluded from testifying. Without any testimony to rebut plaintiff’s version of the accident, the trial judge directed a verdict as to full liability on the part of the defendant.

In the damages phase of the trial, the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor for pain and suffering in the sum of $20,000 (all past – four years). Plaintiff’s attorney immediately requested that the trial judge set aside the verdict because of the failure to award any damages at all for future pain and suffering. The judge granted the application. An appeal followed.

In Santana v. Western Beef Retail, Inc., (2d Dept. 2015), the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s order setting aside the verdict because the failure to award any damages for future pain and suffering was inconsistent with the evidence that plaintiff’s shoulder injury was permanent.

Here are the injury details:

  • Full thickness one centimeter tear of rotator cuff
  • Torn anterior labrum with displacement
  • Arthroscopic surgery on 12/29/10 (a) to  debride the rotator cuff and (b) to repair the labrum with stitches and an anchor
  • Permanent restricted range of motion, pain, tenderness and limitations

shoulder_labral_tear_treatment01

The defendant’s expert orthopedic surgeon opined that plaintiff “healed fairly well” and that whatever restrictions, pain and limitations she had were not severe. He did, though, concede that plaintiff’s injuries are permanent.

Plaintiff testified that as a result of her injury she feels like her “shoulder is going to fall off” and that she cannot clean her house, get dressed without assistance, hug her granddaughter or travel much outside her home all due to pain.

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $300,000 for past and future (18 1/2 years) pain and suffering. The defendant has now agreed to pay $160,000 in full settlement after plaintiff, holding firm to a settlement demand of $160,000, rejected its offers during trial in the sum of $60,000 and then $100,000.
  • After the verdict, defense counsel spoke with the jurors and said that some indicated they believed plaintiff was not credible and that this informed their decision as to the (minimal) damages award.
  • The jurors saw two videos – one was a store video that depicted plaintiff slipping and falling, the other was taken by plaintiff’s daughter showing plaintiff with water on the floor.

On March 10, 2008, Cassandra Grace was heading toward the turnstiles at the Third Avenue-149th Street subway station in the Bronx. After descending a flight of stairs, her foot was caught by a depression in cracked tiles on the floor causing her to trip and fall.

Ms. Grace, then a 46 year old dance instructor, was taken by ambulance to the local hospital where she was treated for complaints of ankle, back and knee pain. She was released that day but her pain persisted and she sued the transit authority claiming that it failed to maintain the station in a reasonably safe condition.

On August 3, 2012, the Bronx jury determined that the defendant was fully at fault and awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $170,000 ($20,000 past – 4 1/2 years, $150,000 future – 31 years). In addition, the jury awarded loss of enjoyment of life damages in the sum of $45,000 ($20,000 past, $25,000 future).

The defendant appealed, claiming that (a) the liability verdict should be vacated and (b) the damage awards were excessive, in particular the $45,000 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life.

Both the liability and damages verdicts have been affirmed in Grace v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2014).

Defendant correctly argued that loss of enjoyment of life is not a separate element of damages deserving a distinct award but is, instead, only a factor to be considered by a jury in assessing damages for pain and suffering. As the court noted in this case, though, the defendant lost its right to contest this error on appeal because it failed at trial to object to the proposed verdict sheet and thereafter failed again to object when the trial judge charged the jury.

Here are the details as to plaintiff’s injuries, none of which are mentioned in the court’s decision:

  • Ankle – completely torn anterior tibiofibular ligament requiring arthroscopic surgery on 10/17/08 in which the ligament ends were sewn together and several pieces of floating cartilage were removed; non-weight bearing for four weeks, CAM boot for another four weeks and air stirrups for eight months; permanent pain and range of motion deficits
  • Backherniated disc at L3-4 with permanent pain and range of motion deficits
  • Knee – torn cartilage with permanent pain and range of motion deficits
  • Unable to return to work as a dancer-instructor (though about a year before trial she was able to find another job in the dance field but only instructing, not dancing in any significant manner)

Ms. Grace underwent about 12 months of physical therapy, faces a lifetime of thrice annual epidural steroid injections in her spine and, although no further surgery is yet indicated,  her expert physiatrist testified that her prognosis is poor regarding all of her injuries.

The defendant contended that Ms. Grace did not need ankle surgery and in any event it had healed well, any pain in her back was from pre-existing degenerative disc disease and her knee injury was minor if anything at all.

Inside Information:

  • Before trial, plaintiff’s settlement demand was $375,000 against an offer of $75,000.
  • In closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $950,000 for plaintiff’s non-economic damages. Defense counsel urged a finding of no liability but, alternatively, suggested no more than $70,000 for the past and nothing at all for the future.
  • Shortly before trial, it came to light that the defendant’s orthopedic surgery expert had treated the plaintiff twice after the accident – in May and June of 2008. Both the doctor and the plaintiff had been unaware of that fact when, in May 2009, plaintiff was examined by the doctor as defendant’s expert.
  • Plaintiff was also awarded damages for (a) past loss of earnings in the sum of $136,000 and (b)  medical expenses in the sum of $171,000 ($36,000 past, $135,000 future). The parties agreed to reduce the loss of earnings award by $71,000 due to disability payments plaintiff received before trial.

 

On June 25, 2007, at about 8:30 a.m., Melody Sweet was driving her 1986 Mustang convertible on Innis Avenue in Poughkeepsie at a speed of 25-30 miles per hour when Christopher Rios pulled his sport utility vehicle out of a parking space on the side of the road and collided with her vehicle.

A red 1986 Mustang convertible (Ms. Sweet’s was pink and was totaled in the accident):

The crash caused neck, back, shoulder and knee injuries to the then 47 year old Ms. Sweet. She was transported by ambulance to the local hospital where she was treated for low back pain and a contusion to her right shin and tibia. Twelve days later, Ms. Sweet began an extensive course of medical treatment that included two surgical procedures.

In her ensuing lawsuit, on April 13, 2011, a Dutchess County jury found Mr. Rios fully at fault and awarded Ms. Sweet pain and suffering damages in the sum of $720,000 ($100,000 past – four years, $620,000 future – 31 years).

The defendant appealed, claiming that the amount awarded for future damages was excessive. The appellate court agreed, in Sweet v. Rios (2d Dept. 2014), and ordered a reduction of the future damage award from $620,000 to $465,000. The court thus determined that the proper total pain and suffering award for plaintiff is $565,000 ($100,000 past, $465,000 future).

The court’s decision mentions some of the injuries; however, here are the injury details:

  • Neck and Back – Cervical disc protrusions at C4-5 and C5-6 and lumbar disc bulges at L4 and L5-S1 that required four trigger point injections, extensive physical therapy, pain management and chiropractic treatment and left plaintiff with significant range of motion deficits that her doctors opined are permanent and, as to her back, Ms. Sweet said left her with radiating and stabbing pain that continues to get worse. One of her doctors opined that she will need microdiscectomy lumbar surgery in the future.
  • Left Shoulder – Arthroscopic surgery on 11/1/07 to repair the superior labrum, anterior and interior capsulorraphies, glenoid chondroplasty, rotator cuff debridement, partial synovectomy, removal of loose bodies, acromioplasty and distal clavicle resection. Despite the surgery, and a series of three trigger point injections thereafter, Ms. Sweet testified she cannot lift her left arm above her shoulder and has continuing pain and stiffness. Her doctors testified she has significant range of motion deficits, her injury is permanent and “there is no doubt” she will require major reconstructive surgery or replacement.
  • Right Knee – Arthroscopic surgery on 3/20/08 to repair or trim back meniscal tears. The surgery was successful, plaintiff regained full range of motion in her knee, sharp pain and snapping resolved and her attorneys on appeal essentially abandoned this aspect of her claim.
  • Work Loss – Ms. Sweet had been a waitress for 30 years in and around the Poughkeepsie area. She missed two days of work right after the accident before returning on limited duty for the next few months. Thereafter, though, she never returned and claimed she is permanently unable to do so because of the injuries from the accident.
  • Activities of Daily Living – Plaintiff testified that she can no longer enjoy her recreational activities such as hiking, walking in the woods and ice skating. Also, she said she was socially isolated because her social life had revolved around her work and she lost her friends.

The defendant’s expert orthopedic surgeon opined that plaintiff sustained no injury to her neck, the injury to her back was merely a sprain with temporary aggravation of degenerative disc disease, her shoulder conditions were pre-existing and not caused by the accident and her knee injury was not caused by the accident. He noted that significant obesity (plaintiff was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 260 pounds at the time) was a more likely cause of many of plaintiff’s complaints.

Inside Information:

  • Prior to the accident, Ms. Sweet had never sought medical treatment nor had she experienced any medical problems with her neck, back, left shoulder or right knee.
  • Two years after this accident, Ms. Sweet was involved in a slip and fall accident at a grocery store in which she hit her face, cheek bone and jaw causing broken dentures and a ripped off toenail.
  • Ms. Sweet was determined to be disabled by the Social Security Administration and at trial was collecting Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits of $681 per month.
  • The jury also awarded (and the appellate court sustained) past and future lost earnings in the sum of $234,000 ($76,000 past, $158,000 future –  7.9 years).
  • In denying a motion to set aside the jury verdict, the trial judge stated: “This was somewhat of an unusual case by virtue of the fact that plaintiff’s pleasures in life to a great degree revolve around her work which she could no longer perform…. In many ways, her pleasures in life revolved around being at the diner with her friends …. In effect, her social life came to a halt.”
  • Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $750,000; defendant’s offer was $60,000.

Luis Molina was on his way to work the night shift as a building engineer at The Yale Club in Manhattan on November 16, 2008.  At about 11:30 p.m., Mr. Molina slipped on a plastic bag while descending the stairs leading to the Hunts Point subway station in the Bronx. His feet slid out from under him and he landed on his back.

Stairway Entrance to Hunts Point Subway Station

The stairway was open to the street and Molina contended that trash often blew on the stairway, at least in part because of windy conditions and the open design of the stairway.

In the ensuing lawsuit, a Bronx County jury determined that the transit authority negligent was negligent after hearing evidence that the authority’s employees knew there was debris on the stairs regularly and took no additional measures to clean the area.

Molina, 47 years old at the time of the accident, was awarded pain and suffering damages at trial in the sum of $1,900,000 ($600,000 past – 3 years, $1,300,000 future – 27 years).

Defendant appealed arguing (a) unsuccessfully, that there was no basis for the imposition of any liability against it and (b) successfully, that the pain and suffering award was excessive.

In Molina v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2014), the appellate court affirmed the jury’s liability finding  but reduced the award for future pain and suffering damages by $500,000 (from $1,300,000 to $800,000).

After the reduction, the total pain and suffering award now stands at $1,400,000.

The appellate court also affirmed the jury’s other awards in the sums of $650,000 for lost earnings and $60,000 for medical expenses. The decision, therefore, results in a total award, before interest, in the sum of $2,110,000 ($1,400,000 for pain and suffering, $650,000 for earnings and $60,000 for medical expenses).

Unfortunately, the appellate court decision states nothing at all as to the nature of the injuries sustained by plaintiff. According to court documents, Mr. Molina sustained tears of the rotator cuff and labrum in his right shoulder and, because of overuse, a rotator cuff tear of the supraspinatus tendon in his left shoulder. He also claimed that the accident trauma caused herniated discs in his back.

Here are the injury details:

  • Hospital emergency room the day after the accident – pain medication and sling for arm
  • Physical therapy starting two weeks later three times a week for eight weeks
  • Right shoulder arthroscopic surgery in May 2009 to repair full thickness  rotator cuff tear of the supraspinatus tendon
  • Right shoulder immobilized in a sling for four months after surgery
  • Left shoulder partially torn rotator cuff and labral tear due to overuse requiring arthroscopic surgery in October 2010 to debride the tissue
  • Significant and permanent range of motion loss in both shoulders
  • Unable to return to work since February 2009
  • Unable to return to recreational sports, especially handball, a lifelong passion since plaintiff had been a champion in high school
  • Herniated disc at L5-S1 requiring two epidural steroid injections and resulting in a recommendation for future surgery

The defense contended that (a)  plaintiff’s injuries were not nearly as severe as claimed, (b) he had preexisting arthritis and impingement of his right shoulder, (c) the claim related to his left shoulder was simply “proof of how to try to build the case,” and (d) he had preexisting significant degenerative changes in his lower back. In his summation, defense counsel argued that plaintiff was an overweight, overworked man who was orchestrating matters so that he would have “a way to get somebody to pay him for not working for the rest of his life.”

Plaintiff’s counsel, Andrea V. Borden, conceded that her client had some “preexisting stuff” but noted that there was no evidence Mr. Molina had ever treated for shoulder or back pain before the accident. She relied upon the testimony of plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon, Gabriel Dassa, M.D.,  who explained to the jury all of plaintiff’s injuries and their consequences. In her closing argument, Ms. Borden suggested to the jurors that they award plaintiff $600,000 for his past pain and suffering plus $1,300,000 for the future and those are the exact numbers they awarded.

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $800,000 against which there was no offer.
  • The accident was unwitnessed and unreported at the time. Plaintiff testified that he was embarrassed and “jumped on [his] feet … continued walking down the steps and continued to work.” He also reported to work the next day but was in pain, unable to continue and sent home by his boss. It was then that he sought medical treatment for the first time.

On October 22, 2003, Denise Morales slipped and fell on wet steps while exiting the rear door of a city bus at 167th Street and Ogden Avenue in the Bronx. She was taken to the local hospital by ambulance complaining of pain in her right shoulder and  back.

Ms. Morales fell when exiting the bus, unlike the man in this photo.

An ensuing lawsuit resulted in a verdict finding the city’s transit authority fully at fault and awarding Ms. Morales pain and suffering damages in the sum of $700,000  ($400,000 past – 8 years, $300,000 future – 49 years).

Defendants argued, successfully, that the amount was excessive and the trial judge ordered a reduction to $210,000 ($175,000 past, $35,000 future).

Plaintiff appealed arguing that the trial judge’s reduction was improper and the $700,000 jury verdict should be reinstated. In Morales v. Manhattan and Bronx Surface Tr. Operating Auth. (1st Dept. 2013), the appellate judges ordered an increase to $550,000 ($300,000 past, $250,000 future)

The appellate court decision discloses that Ms. Morales was 24 years old at the time of the accident and sustained a partial thickness rotator cuff tear requiring surgery as well as an injury to her lower back.

Here are further injury details:

  • taken by ambulance from the scene to Bronx Lebanon Hospital complaining of shoulder and back pain; radiological studies were negative; treated in the ER and released with a cervical collar, a cane and pain medication
  • physical therapy at Bronx Medical Health Center starting about two weeks after the accident for a period of nine months
  • arthroscopic surgery on right shoulder August 3, 2004 revealing severe impingement, partial thickness supraspinatus tear, bursitis and synovitis requiring removal of thickness in the acromion and resection of the bursa
  • new, two month course of physical therapy post-surgery
  • permanent decreased range of motion and pain in shoulder and back
  • unable (a) without assistance to cook or clean house; (b) to carry as much as a gallon of milk; (c) to pick up kids (ages 11 and 14 years at trial) from school
  • requires continued narcotic pain medication
  • may need surgery to resect distal clavicle

The defense called only one medical witness to testify at trial – radiologist Sheldon Feit, M.D. He reviewed a pre-surgery MRI of plaintiff’s shoulder and concluded that it did not show evidence of a rotator cuff tear but that it did show a bony spur or osteophyte that he concluded was “a sign of degeneration at that joint.” Plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon, Randall Ehrlich, M.D., testified to the contrary, stating: “I have never seen someone that young, in her 20’s, with a degenerative rotator cuff condition who is not a high level pitcher.”

Inside Information:

  • Ms. Morales was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease for which there is not yet a cure) at the age of 14 and suffered from it since then and up to the date of trial. It primarily causes abdominal pain. Defense counsel argued that plaintiff failed to present any evidence of the differentiation between her symptoms for Crohn’s as opposed to her injuries claimed in the accident.
  • Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon, Jeffrey Cohen, M.D., testified that he was never paid for the surgery but hoped to be paid after the trial as he had a lien on plaintiff’s recovery.
  • Prior to trial, plaintiff never had a recommended MRI to better diagnose her back injury because she had no insurance or money to pay for it.

On June 8, 2008 Michelle Trezza, then a 25 year old office manager, was a rear seat passenger in a car that was struck by a city bus on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx. She claimed significant right shoulder injuries as a result of the impact and sued both drivers.

Normal Shoulder Anatomy

Since it was undisputed that the bus veered out of its lane and sideswiped the car, a judicial determination was made that the bus driver was 100% at fault and the matter proceeded to a trial on damages only.

On November 22, 2011, Ms. Trezza was awarded damages in the sum of $2,500,000 as follows:

  • pain and suffering in the sum of $2,000,000 ($500,000 past – 3.5 years, $1,500,000 future – 51 years)
  • future medical expenses in the sum of $500,000

In Trezza v. Metropolitan Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2014), the appellate court reduced the $2,500,000 award to $300,000, holding that:

  1. the $500,000 past pain and suffering award was excessive and should be reduced to $300,000 and
  2. there was no basis at all for any future damages and, accordingly, the $1,500,000 future pain and suffering award – as well as the $500,000 future medical expenses award – should be vacated entirely because there was not enough evidence to prove that plaintiff would endure pain and suffering in the future and her claim for future medical expenses was too speculative

Plaintiff’s main injury from the accident was a right shoulder impingement (when the acromion rubs against or impinges on the tendon and the bursa, causing irritation and pain).

Here are other injury details:

  • extensive physical therapy and treatment with orthopedic surgeons, beginning the day after the accident
  •  arthroscopic surgery on 11/7/09 including a bursectomy, resection of the coracoacromial ligament and an anterior acromioplasty
  • development of arthritic “bony spicule” formation
  • five sets of trigger point injections
  • residual shoulder pain and restricted range of motion leaving plaintiff unable to pick up her toddler daughter, ride a bicycle, play with her children or scrub the floor
  • disc herniation at C4-5 (minor treatment, apparently not significant to jury)

Inside Information:

  • Ms. Trezza developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands subsequent to the car accident but unrelated to it and underwent carpal tunnel release surgeries in early 2011. The defense argued that much  of plaintiff’s ongoing painful disability was related to her carpal tunnel injuries.
  • In closing arguments, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award past pain and suffering  damages between $200,000 and $300,000 and he suggested that a fair amount for future pain and suffering would be between $300,000 and $500,000.
  • Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $375,000 against which the defense had offered $115,000.
  • There was no loss of earnings claim.

On October 25, 2008, Betty Luna boarded a city bus at Archer Avenue and Southern Boulevard in Queens. She paid the fare, began walking back to get a seat holding on to the pole and then she fell to the floor onto her right knee when the bus suddenly accelerated and pulled away from the stop.

The 47 year old Dr. Luna (a pediatrician then working in a Bronx child care clinic) was in excruciating pain. She remained on the bus floor for several minutes. Helped to a seat by fellow passengers, she continued on to her destination in the Bronx, hobbled home, iced her knee overnight and took a taxi to the local emergency room in the morning. She was diagnosed with a severely torn meniscus.

Dr. Luna sued the transit authority claiming that the bus driver negligently caused her to fall by suddenly, violently and without warning accelerating the bus.

After a seven day trial in the Bronx, the jurors agreed and on May 3, 2012 returned a verdict awarding Dr. Luna $1,000,000 for her pain and suffering damages ($500,000 past – 3.5 years, $500,000 future – 34 years).

In a post-trial motion, the transit authority argued, successfully, that the damages award was excessive and the trial judge ordered a reduction of the pain and suffering award to $350,000 ($100,000 past, $250,000 future).

Plaintiff, not surprisingly, appealed contending that the trial judge’s reduction was drastic and totally unwarranted; furthermore, plaintiff urged the appellate court to order an increase in the future pain and suffering damages award to at least $700,000.

Now, in Luna v. New York City Transit Authority (1st Dept. 2013), the $1,000,000 jury award for plaintiff’s pain and suffering has been reinstated. [The decision erroneously states that it was 7 years and 7 months from the date of the accident to the date of the verdict – it was 3 years and 6 months.]

As set forth in the court’s decision, as a result of the accident, Dr. Luna’s torn meniscus required arthroscopic surgery (six weeks after she fell). During her surgery, a large portion of plaintiff’s right lateral meniscus was removed, leaving no cartilage in that area – “bone on bone” as one of her doctors described it.

Dr. Luna was unable to work for three months, continues to experience significant pain and it is “most probable” that she will require a future knee replacement.

 

Inside Information:

  • The defense conceded, and the trial judge charged the jury, that the bus driver should be found negligent if indeed he suddenly, unusually and violently accelerated; however, it was claimed, unsuccessfully, that Dr. Luna fell because it was pouring rain at the time and that she fell because of a wet, slippery floor on the bus (for which there would be no liability in this case).
  • Plaintiff explained why she didn’t seek medical treatment until the next day: “Well, I’m a physician. I didn’t see a bone sticking out. I wasn’t unconscious. I wasn’t bleeding. I was embarrassed and I wanted to go home.”
  • Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon, Stuart Hershon M.D., testified that it was “possible” she’d need a total knee replacement whereas her pain management doctor, Stuart Kahn, M.D., testified much more definitively – he said it’s “highly likely.”
  • The defense doctor, Julio Westerbrand, M.D., was board certified in orthopedic surgery but, due to his own medical condition, had to stop operating in 2004; he offered no opinion as to whether plaintiff will require additional surgery.
  • In closing, defense counsel charged that plaintiff attempted to “play the race card” because “they don’t feel comfortable in their case. They want to try and influence things that don’t matter to try to win.” This was in response to plaintiff’s testimony –  “the bus driver was a white person”, “there is prejudice” and “I am Hispanic minority” –  suggesting that “prejudice” was the reason the bus driver, knowing she fell and seeing her writhing in pain on the bus floor, had not stopped the bus or otherwise helped her by lowering the exit platform.

UPDATE: On April 3, 2014, the decision in this case was revised slightly. See, Luna v. New York City Transit Authority (1st. Dept 2014). The damages numbers stand but the period between the date of the accident and the date of the verdict was corrected (it was 3 years and 6 months, not 7 years and 7 months) and plaintiff’s doctor’s testimony as to her prognosis was corrected (he said it was “highly probable” she will require a future knee replacement not “most probable”).