On May 30, 2008, crane operator Donald Leo and laborer Ramadan Kurtaj were working at a building construction site in Manhattan. Mr. Leo was inside a crane’s cab 14 stories above East 91st Street and Mr. Kurtaj was working on the street below. Shortly before 8 a.m.,the crane tilted, rocked and then sheared off of its supporting turntable and collapsed, plummeting 200 feet striking a building and bouncing off several terraces before crash landing on the street pavement. Both Mr. Leo (30 years old) and Mr. Kurtaj (27 years old) were killed.

In the ensuing highly publicized lawsuit by the estates of both decedents. with an 11 month trial and 87 witnesses, on July 30, 2015, a Manhattan jury determined that the crane owners (James F. Lomma and his two related companies)were negligent and awarded pre-death pain and suffering damages (a)  for Mr. Leo in the sum of $15,500,000 ($7,500,000 for pre-impact terror plus $8,000,000 for pre-death pain and suffering) and (b) for Mr. Kurtaj in the sum of $31,500,000 ($7,500,000 for pre-impact terror plus $24,000,000 for pain and suffering).

Post-trial, the defendants made a motion for a substantial reduction of the damage awards; however, the trial judge issued a decision declining to reduce the awards.

On appeal, in Matter of 91st Street Crane Collapse Litigation (1st Dept. 2017), the pain and suffering awards have been reduced to $8,000,000 for Mr. Leo’s estate ($2,500,000 for pre-impact terror plus $5,500,000 for pain and suffering) and $9,500,000 for Mr. Kurtaj’s estate ($2,000,000 for pre-impact terror plus $7,500,000 for pain and suffering).

The evidence indicated that the total time from the initial crane rocking to its impact with the street was about 20 seconds and that Mr. Leo was aware of his impending death when trapped inside the crane’s cab for those 20 seconds. Witnesses from adjacent apartment buildings testified and described the “sheer look of panic and fear” on Mr. Leo’s face. They described him making a series of hand movements and putting his hands together as if praying. And, they described him as then seeming to brace himself before the crane ultimately fell off the building.

The court stated that pre-impact terror is a sub-category of conscious pain and suffering and then explained that damages for pre-impact terror are designed to compensate for the fear the decedent experienced during the interval between the moment the decedent appreciated the danger resulting in his death and the moment he sustained a physical injury as a result of the danger.

The impacts caused massive blunt impact head trauma (with near-complete decapitation) and many massive fractures to Mr. Leo’s arms and legs and almost 20 minutes of excruciating pain before he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The evidence indicated that Mr. Kurtaj heard the crane collapse and then ran and tried to warn others until about 20 seconds later when he was struck by the crane. He sustained many degloving and bone-shattering injuries and was alive and conscious while trapped under the wreckage for 20 minutes screaming and in obvious pain. He was also conscious, moaning, suffering and in pain for an additional 10 minutes while in the ambulance on route to the hospital.

At the hospital, Mr. Kurtaj was handed off to doctors who testified that he was unresponsive and, within six minutes, was administered paralytics and intubated. He was taken to the operating room two and a half hours after arriving at the hospital but he died during surgery, without ever having regained any responsiveness, approximately four hours after the crane collapse.

As to pre-impact terror claims, generally, the court cautioned that: “There must be some evidence that the decedent perceived the likelihood of grave injury or death before the impact, and suffered emotional distress as a result.” In this case, there was substantial direct evidence not only of the “inconceivable pre- impact terror” endured by both Messrs. Leo and Kurtaj but also of their post-impact pre-death conscious pain and suffering.

As to punitive damages, the jury heard evidence that Lomma had made calculated decisions over a period of months when replacing a broken crane part, used a cheap unreliable China-based distributor and failed to test the defective welds. After finding that plaintiffs were entitled to an award of punitive damages, the judge charged the jury as to the law that applies to the amount of punitive damages which were then awarded by the jury in the sum of $24,000,000 for each plaintiff. The appellate court stated that the defendant “placed profit over the safety of construction workers and the public” and agreed that punitive damages were warranted. Nonetheless, the court ordered a reduction of the punitive damages awards from $24,000,000 for each plaintiff to $8,000,000 for plaintiff Leo and $9,500,000 for plaintiff Kurtaj.

Inside Information:

  • The court’s mention that Mr. Kurtaj remained conscious and in pain for as much as three hours apparently assumes that the jury determined that fact but it did not. Several medical experts and treating physicians testified but none concluded that Mr. Kurtaj was conscious and in pain after he arrived at the hospital (where, within a few minutes, he was given paralytics). There was, though, a lone notation in the medical records by an unknown person who was not called to testify indicating that, three hours after the collapse, Mr. Kurtaj had a score of seven on the Glasgow Coma Scale.
  • The jury was shown a video depicting the extrication of Mr. Kurtaj from under the debris which took approximately 20 minutes.
  • Criminal charges were lodged against James Lomma (the  owner of the crane) and a mechanic he employed. Mr. Lomma was acquitted of all charges (the most serious of which was second-degree manslaughter) while the mechanic pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
  • Three other defendants settled with plaintiffs for a combined total of $3,500,000 during the trial.

 

On July 29, 2005, Helen Garber began extensive treatment in a dental office on 57th Street in Manhattan known as Toothsavers, a practice established by Jerry Lynn, with 50 employees including numerous dentists. 

Over the next few months, the 71 year old Ms. Garber was treated at Toothsavers under a comprehensive plan that included implants, caps and permanent bridgework. By November a permanent bridge was made but it didn’t fit. It had to be revised three times. Finally, in February 2006, Garber left Toothsavers and never returned.

She sued for malpractice in April 2006 (Garber v. Lynn, Supreme Court, New York County, Index # 105673/06) and two years later a Manhattan jury found that there had indeed been malpractice (in the fit and placement of the temporary bridge) and plaintiff was awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $25,000 ($10,000 past – 3 years, $15,000 future). She was also awarded $75,000 in past and future dental expenses and $260,000 in punitive damages.

Now, on appeal, in Garber v. Lynn (1st Dept. 2010), the liability verdict has been affirmed while the pain and suffering award has been increased to $150,000 ($90,000 past, $60,000 future), the punitive damages award upheld but reduced to $100,000 and the dental expenses award affirmed.

Here are the details of plaintiff’s injuries:

  • severe pain
  • swelling of gums which bleed easily, pull away from the bone and trap bacteria
  • impairment of ability to chew
  • inability to clean the area around the bridge

Plaintiff established that to restore the damage she needs more than 20 additional implants and 14 crowns.

The defense argued  on appeal (unsuccessfully) that the pain and suffering award should not be increased, in part, because Ms. Garber had failed to mitigate her own damages in that she wore an ill-fitting, painful temporary bridge for three years without seeking new treatment. Thus, they claimed, the jury was justified in concluding plaintiff acted unreasonably and, accordingly, discounting her claims of pain and suffering. This argument was rejected by the appellate court.

The affirmance of the punitive damages award is significant because, as New York’s highest court held in McDougald v. Garber (1989), they are prohibited unless the harmful conduct is intentional, malicious, outrageous or otherwise aggravated beyond mere negligence. And, as was held in Bothmer v. Schooler, Weinstein, Minsky & Lester, P.C. (1st Dept. 1999), even where there is gross negligence, punitive damages are awarded only in singularly rare cases such as those involving an improper state of mind or cases involving wrongdoing to the public.

Defense counsel argued that the conduct of Toothsavers was, at worst, mere negligence, and nowhere near the severe standards required for the imposition of punitive damages. The key to the punitive damages award in this case, though, was the fact that it was a Toothsavers technician – not a licensed dentist – who always fit, placed, adjusted and re-cemented plaintiff’s temporary bridge.

The appellate court noted that the unlicensed practice of dentistry is a crime and the jury was therefore free to conclude that Toothsavers was "callous in its indifference to such illegality" by having a mere technician repeatedly conduct complicated procedures such as fabricating, placing and adjusting the bridge. This, the court concluded, is precisely the sort of willful or wanton negligence or recklessness that warrants deterrence and an award of punitive damages.

Inside Information:

  • Ms.Garber had gone to Toothsavers only to ask about repairing two chipped front teeth. After an examination, she was told she needed a whole lot more dental work including implants, caps and permanent bridgework. A $25,000 fee was quoted. When she said she couldn’t afford $25,000, the fee was adjusted down to $5,000 – and treatment began that day.
  • Jerry Lynn and Toothsavers were notorious long before Helen Garber walked in the door. They were the subject of an expose in the New York Daily News on March 10, 2000.
  • In March 2002, Lynn did not contest the charge of rendering substandard dental treatment and surrendered his dental license to the New York State Board of Regents. No longer allowed to practice, Lynn then entered into what the trial judge stated was a sham transaction – the purported $6,000,000 sale of his shares in Toothsavers to Sol Stolzenberg, then a 69 year old dentist employed by Toothsavers who had recently declared bankruptcy.
  • The judge also stated that the evidence was overwhelming that Lynn controlled the day to day operations of the dental practice and that Dr. Stolzenberg was a "strawman."
  • The technician – defendant Raimondo Perez – appears to have been a licensed dentist in the Domincan Republic for 11 years but when he applied here to a program for foreign dentists he was rejected.
  • New York City attorney Joel M. Kotick represented Ms. Garber and says he’s represented patients in 50 cases against Lynn over the years. And has been successful in every one of them.

On March 1, 2000 at about 6:30 p.m., New York City Police Officer Luis Rivera was patrolling a high crime area in the Bronx. He was with members of his special narcotics unit and he was acting undercover, in plainclothes. Noticing four men acting suspiciously at the entrance to a four story building on Boynton Avenue, Rivera approached the building and pushed open the door.

Here is 1045 Boynton Avenue, Bronx, New York, where events unfolded that fateful night:

As he entered and after identifying himself as a police officer, the four suspects ran away but Rivera caught Malcolm Ferguson by the arm. Continuing to run away, Ferguson dragged Rivera but when they reached a stair landing and tumbled to the ground Ferguson made it no further and died right then and there.

The 23 year old unarmed Malcolm Ferguson had been shot in the head point blank by Police Officer Rivera while the two of them struggled on the ground.

Rivera said he pulled his gun because he feared for his safety given that it was pitch black in the stairwell and he didn’t know where the other three men were. The officer claimed he hadn’t intended to shoot Ferguson, that the gun went off by accident when he had to grab Ferguson with his gun hand that he hadn’t been able to re-holster due to the struggle.

The Bronx County District Attorney conducted a full investigation and concluded that the evidence supported Officer Rivera’s statement that the shooting was accidental. Nonetheless, Mr. Ferguson’s mother, Juanita Young, brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the city. After hearing from the officer and his colleagues, the Bronx jury ruled that excessive force had been used and therefore Ferguson’s estate was entitled to damages in the sum of $3,000,000 for pain and suffering and fear of impending death.

Additionally, the jury awarded $7,000,000 in punitive damages finding that the police officer’s actions were wanton and reckless.

In a post-trial decision, the trial judge vacated the pain and suffering award and ordered a new trial as to the punitive damages award.

This week in Ferguson v. City of New York, the appellate court ruled as follows:

  1. the $3,000,000 pain and suffering award dismissal by the trial judge was affirmed and
  2. the punitive damages award was reduced from $7,000,000 to $2,700,000.

As we’ve discussed before, here and here, to support an award for pre-death pain and suffering, there must be proof that the decedent was conscious for some period of time after the underlying incident. Without pre-death cognitive awareness of pain, the courts have consistently held that there can be no sustainable damages for pain and suffering. In other words, there has to be proof that the decedent actually suffered pain and there is no such proof possible when death is instantaneous.

In Malcolm Ferguson’s case, the defense prevailed on their claim that there should be no pre-death pain and suffering award because the decedent died within 60 seconds (according to the coroner) and there were no facts indicating he was conscious for even a moment after the shooting or that he groaned or in any way was aware of his impending death.

The appeals court rejected plaintiff’s claim that the award should be sustained because Malcolm feared his impending death from the moment the chase and struggle began. The evidence indicated that Rivera pulled his gun only a moment before the shooting and Ferguson never even knew the gun had been pulled, was inches from the back of his head and he was about to be shot. He never saw it coming and thus there were no facts to support a claim of fear if impending death.

The court did not discuss but implicitly distinguished and rejected a case relied upon by the plaintiff – Lubecki v. City of New York (1st. Dept. 2003) in which a $3,000,000 pre-death pain and suffering award was affirmed in another type of excessive force by police officers case. There, the officers shot a bank robbery hostage after a standoff. There was evidence that the decedent turned her head and tried to speak to her sister as she lay mortally wounded but before she was pronounced dead an hour later. Additionally and perhaps most critically, before the three gunshots (first to her thigh, then her ankle and finally her chest), the appellate court noted that the decedent experienced pre-impact terror which, along with the significant injuries sustained before her death, supported the pain and suffering award in Lubecki v. City of New York.

As to punitive damages in Ferguson v. City of New York, the appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude – as they did – that the officer’s actions were wanton, reckless or malicious. It was therefore within the jury’s power to render an award of punitive damages; however, the court held that $7,000,000 was excessive and it ordered a reduction of the punitive damages to $2,700,000.

Inside Information:

  • The jury in Ferguson v. City of New York also awarded about $317,000 in economic damages to the decedent’s mother with whom he had resided. There was credible evidence that Malcolm had contributed $50 per week to help support his mother and that he helped her with household chores and that he’d have continued to do both for 25 more years.
  • Ferguson’s death was just a month after the acquittal of police officers in the notorious Amadou Diallo case (the civil suit with respect to which later settled for $3,000,000). Five days before his death, Malcolm had been among demonstrators protesting the acquittal and spent the night in jail for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
  • In a separate matter, Malcolm Ferguson’s mother, Juanita Young, won $450,000 in pain and suffering damages for wrist injuries caused by the city police. As we discussed, here, Ms. Young was injured when she fell down stairs in 2003 while being arrested in connection with her eviction from her apartment.
     

We wrote about this tragic case last August, here, and can now report that the estate of Michael Colombini has settled all of the claims arising out of his death in 2001. Bearing full responsibility, Westchester County Health Care Corp. (the formal name of Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York) has agreed to pay $2,900,000.

Michael Colombini had been undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) test at the hospital on July 26, 2001 when a hospital nurse brought an oxygen tank into the MRI room and, as it was made of ferrous metal, the oxygen tank was propelled missile-like into the machine where it struck Michael’s head as he lay sedated being tested for a brain tumor. He died two days later.

This type of oxygen tank, made of aluminum alloy, is ideal for MRI departments where non-ferrous materials are a must:

Within days, the hospital assumed full responsibility and later offered $1,000,000 to settle quietly. The offer was declined and extensive litigation ensued not only against the hospital but also against nine other defendants (including doctors, a nurse, technicians, the MRI suite administration company and the MRI manufacturer). Claims were made for wrongful death, pre-death conscious pain and suffering and punitive damages.

After nine years of pre-trial discovery (such as depositions and document exchanges), motion practice (the defendants sought dismissal on technical grounds more than once) and an appeal, the hospital increased its offer by nearly three-fold and the case is now over. A court order approving the settlement was signed last week.

The settlement is significant because it’s a large recovery by New York law standards for the death of a child (the New York State Trial Lawyers Association vigorously opposes as unfair the limiting laws in New York regarding damages allowed in child death cases). And, to the extent that the settlement represents a recovery for Michael’s pain and suffering, $2,900,000 appears to exceed the amounts sustained in appeals in all prior New York cases dealing with short periods of pre-death pain and suffering.

So why did the hospital pay so much to settle? Three reasons:

  1. looming punitive damage claims
  2. the possibility of a significant emotional distress verdict in favor of Michael’s father (who was at the scene) and
  3. the tenacity and reputation of the Colombini family lawyers Tom Moore and Matthew Gaier

Punitive damages are very rarely awarded or sustained on appeal in a negligence or medical malpractice case. They are viable only when it’s proven that a defendant engaged in conduct evincing an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.

In this case, that claim was made against several defendants but as to the operator of the MRI suite – University Imaging Medical Corp. (“UIM”) – it looked like there was a good chance plaintiff would prevail.

UIM made a motion back in 2004 to have the punitive damages claim against it thrown out. The trial judge granted the motion and tossed the claim; however, on appeal in 2005 the appellate court reinstated the punitive damage claim against UIM.  Plaintiff was prepared to prove that UIM, which was responsible for MRI safety and training, had wantonly ignored safety practices in the MRI suite in allowing ferrous materials near the MRI magnet.

The punitive damage claim against UIM was a big, open item and had the jury agreed UIM should be punished then the assessment would likely have been several million dollars (it’s nearly always many, many multiples of the actual or compensatory damages awarded).

Emotional distress claims are recognized in New York courts for people not physically injured in an accident when they were within the “zone of danger” and feared for their own safety. When he rushed into the MRI suite after the oxygen tank hit his son, Mr. Colombini testified that he was indeed in fear. The appellate court, in its 2005 ruling in this case mentioned above, found that there was an issue of fact as to whether Mr. Colombini was in the zone of danger and he was permitted, therefore, to present his emotional distress claim before a jury at trial.

In a July 6, 2009 decision, though, the trial judge dismissed the emotional distress claim. The judge said that Mr. Colombini had not shown that the defendants owed him any duty of care and he had not shown he really feared for his own safety. This ruling was puzzling in that the judge reversed her own prior ruling in 2004 that allowed this claim to proceed.  Plaintiff’s counsel no doubt felt that had this case not settled then the father’s emotional distress claim would have been reinstated on appeal and that a very substantial sum would have been awarded directly to the father for his emotional distress.

The law firm of Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore is without question one of the top plaintiff’s medical malpractice law firms in New York. In this case, partners Thomas A. Moore and Matthew Gaier superbly represented the Colombini family and reached the best result that anyone could have. “Tommy” Moore has become a legendary figure in the New York courts on behalf of malpractice victims. It is not an exaggeration to say that in this case, the defendants paid top dollar and then some because Mr. Moore was ready to try the case. That’s not to say he’s infallible — he has critics and, like anyone who tries many cases to verdicts, he’s been defeated — but it is to say that the $2,900,000 settlement in this case is probably more than would have been sustained on an appeal of a jury verdict in that amount or higher.

I pause before I close this post with a thought and a prayer for Michael Colombini and his wonderful family. They are good people who’ve suffered tragedy beyond words. May Michael’s soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life and may his family know no more sorrow.

New York firefighter Kevin Deane was skiing in lovely Vail, Colorado on April 1, 2007 when he fell and suffered a spinal cord injury requiring cervical discectomy and fusion surgery that was performed there without complication. When he flew back to New York City to undergo rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Hospital on April 6th, tragedy ensued. Kevin was admitted to the hospital that afternoon (a Friday) and he died about 60 hours later at 2:30 a.m. on April 9th (a Monday). He was 39 years old.

The cause of death was hemorrhage and aspiration of blood caused by the erosion of the surgically implanted hardware into the esophagus.

Here is what the hardware in the neck looks like after fusion surgery:

Claiming that this was a preventable death, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the hospital seeking not only damages for negligence but also punitive damages. It’s extremely rare that a punitive damages claim (in which plaintiffs must prove reckless indifference) is even allowed to be considered by a jury in a medical malpractice case. And that’s what the hospital argued here in making a motion to dismiss that part of the suit; however, the judge disagreed – strongly – and issued a decision released this week in Deane v. Mount Sinai Hospital. The punitive damages claim was allowed to proceed and be considered by the jury.

The judge stated that the hospital appeared to have made the following tragic mistakes:

  • after his admission, no attending physician ever saw Mr. Deane during the 2 1/2 days at the hospital
  • the weekend on call attending physician never showed up because he didn’t get a hospital email advising him he was on call and no one followed up to tell him
  • the other on call attending was unaware that her colleague had failed to show up for work and unaware that half of the 100 rehab patients (including Kevin Deane) were not under the care of an attending

It angered the judge that Mr. Deane was, as she described it, effectively abandoned for over two days prior to his death and that no one ever even tried to tell hospital administration that the on call attending was missing. This appeared to constitute gross negligence, recklessness and gross indifference to patient care as did the hospital’s lack of a system in place that would alert an administrator when an on call attending failed to arrive. Although this was merely a pre-trial decision on a motion to have the punitive damage claim dismissed, the judge’s strong language all but held as a matter of law that the hospital was reckless.

The decision was rendered two weeks before the trial date. Not surprisingly, the case settled (for an undisclosed amount) before the jury was picked.

Inside Information:

  • Mr. Deane was unmarried and without children and therefore the damages that could have been awarded in this case were pretty much limited to those for his pre-death conscious pain and suffering during his 2 1/2 days at the hospital [the length of time a decedent suffers before death will greatly affect this element of damages, as we discussed, here and here]
  • punitive damages against an employer (here, the hospital) for acts of its employees (here, the medical staff) are imposed only where management has authorized or participated in the reckless conduct – in this case plaintiff would have claimed that management’s inaction regarding the faulty email notification system warranted a punitive sanction

Even though the judge felt there was recklessness in this case, it would have been up to the jury to make that finding, or not. And because punitive damages are so rarely awarded in New York medical malpractice cases, and the standard of proof is so high and strict, there may have been a successful defense appeal of such an award had it been made.

One thing is perfectly clear, though: this was a tragic death and no amount of money can ever rectify the loss to the family of this young man.

 

 

 

It’s a huge verdict for someone who lost a leg in an accident – $27,500,000 – but it will never be paid. It will either be reduced on appeal or settled before then.

Here’s the story. Plaintiff Gloria Aguilar, then 45 years old, was walking in midtown Manhattan on November 4, 2005 when she was run over by a city bus turning a corner. Her left leg was crushed, it could not be saved in surgery and it was amputated above the knee. In Aguilar v. New York City Transit Authority (Index # 103132/06), a Manhattan jury heard this case for several weeks in March and April and awarded her $27,500,000, finding the bus driver 100% at fault for the accident (even though it also found plaintiff negligent for not looking when she crossed the street). Her outstanding attorneys at Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman, Mackauf, Bloom & Rubinowitz, led on this case by Ben Rubinowitz, believe it may the highest verdict ever for a woman who lost her leg in an accident.

A New York City bus like this one crushed the plaintiff’s leg:

The verdict in Aguilar will be appealed by the city on two grounds:

  1. the pain and suffering award is excessive and
  2. the finding of full liability against the city was against the weight of evidence

Insider Information:The jury verdict was $16,000,000  for pain and suffering (which was in addition to $9,500,000 for medical expenses and $2,000,000 for loss of consortium to plaintiff’s husband), broken down as follows.

  • Past pain and suffering – $4,000,000
  • Future pain and suffering – $4,000,000
  • Past mental suffering, emotional and psychological injury – $4,000,000
  • Future mental suffering, emotional and psychological injury – $4,000,000

So, Ms. Aguilar was awarded $8,000,000 for past pain and mental suffering (for the 3 1/2 years from the 11/4/05 accident to the 4/16/09 verdict) plus $8,000,000 more for the pain and mental suffering she is expected to endure for the rest of her life (i.e., an additional 32.6 years).

It’s unusual for the mental suffering to be separately awarded in personal injury trials. In any event, the total of $8,000,000 for past pain and mental suffering would not be sustained by an appeals court. Under the law, CPLR 5501, in our experience that figure – for a 3 1/2 year period – would be deemed excessive and reduced by one-half or more.

The $8,000,000 for future pain and mental suffering (over a 32.6 year period) is likely to be reduced as well.

My opinion as to the pain and suffering awards in Aguilar being unsustainable comes not from any lack of sympathy for Ms. Aguilar; you couldn’t give me $50,000,000 to go what she’s going through. Or even a billion dollars. No sum of money would be acceptable. But that’s just not the standard (and we’re not allowed to talk to the jury that way when suggesting an appropriate award in summation). We have a body of law to draw from – especially, prior appellate court decisions –  to see what’s sustainable in leg amputation cases.

In Firmes v. Chase Manhattan Automotive Finance Corp., a 23 year old mechanic drove his motorcycle through an intersection and collided with a left turning car. Mr. Firmes suffered a below the knee amputation of his leg and a Nassau County jury awarded him $7,700,000 for his pain and suffering. The appellate court reduced that to $5,000,000 ($1,500,00 past, $3,500,000 future) without significant explanation. We learned from the appeal briefs in that case that plaintiff had undergone 11 surgeries and that his weight of 340 pounds meant it was unlikely he’d be able to use a prosthesis. Also, there was evidence from a psychiatrist that Mr. Firmes felt completely incapacitated and filled with hopelessness. He concluded that Firmes suffered from permanent depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and would need psychotherapy for the rest of his life.

More Insider Information: There is a significant distinction in leg amputations between those that are above the knee and those that are below the knee. It’s much easier to be fit with a prosthesis and regain much function when the amputation is below the knee. The pain and suffering awards tend to reflect this distinction.

Here’s an example of of an amazing physical recovery by a Michigan girl with a below the knee amputation who ended up a high school varsity athlete. And here she is in action!

In Bondi v. Bambrick, the appeals court affirmed a Manhattan jury verdict of $9,750,000 for pain and suffering for a 35 year old woman who lost part of her leg in an accident in which a drunk defendant drove across a double yellow line in the roadway and struck a motorcycle on which plaintiff was a passenger. Ms. Bondi underwent nine surgeries prior to trial and was left with pervasive scarring and a wound at the amputation site that may never heal. In addition, because of defendant’s recklessness – he had previously been convicted for drunk driving and this time his blood alcohol level of .42 was the highest to date recorded in Suffolk County – the jury awarded punitive damages of $7,000,000 (which the appellate court reduced to $1,000,000).

In Sladick v. Hudson General Corp., the appeals court upheld a Manhattan jury’s award $7,500,000 for pain and suffering ($2,500,000 past, $5,000,000 future) for a previously athletic man in his 30’s who sustained an amputation of his leg eight inches above his knee. In addition, he suffered deterioration of parts of his remaining leg and would have resulting consequential lifelong back pain.

Most recently, in Cardonna v. Coach Leasing, Inc. (Index # 100162/06; Supreme Court, New York County; 11/7/08), after a judge granted the plaintiff summary judgment on liability and the matter was to proceed to a trial on the issue of damages only, the parties reached a $6,000,000 settlement. Plaintiff was a 47 year old woman who was hit by a bus and after three months in the hospital required a below the knee amputation of her leg. Her claim included abut $750,000 in medical expenses and lost earnings as well as an unspecified amount for future earnings (she had been  a physical therapist’s assistant) so it’s clear that the great bulk of the settlement was for pain and suffering.

The Aguilar case is far from over. The city has already announced it will appeal. Plaintiff’s counsel will no doubt oppose any reduction.

Prediction: If taken to a full appeal, the verdict on liability will be upheld while there will be a significant reduction in pain and suffering damages. In the meantime, there will likely be settlement negotiations and if concluded, we will report back on the settlement when we obtain the information.