The plaintiff sustained serious and catastrophic injuries when he fell while traversing a trench at a construction site in the Bronx. As a result of plaintiff’s fall into a trench at the job site he became impaled on a reinforcement bar (rebar) that was surgically removed several hours after his admission to the hospital. It is in this setting that the jury, after a trial and after hearing testimony from plaintiff’s physicians and other experts regarding the devastating and traumatic nature of the personal injuries he sustained, rendered a verdict in the sum of $86 million including $20 million for past pain and suffering and $55 million for future pain and suffering.
A Lawyer said that, plaintiff’s treating physician, the Director of Spinal Cord Services at Helen Hayes Hospital, described in explicit detail the nature and effect of the spinal injuries plaintiff incurred. The Doctor provided the court and jury, inter alia, with a graphic picture of plaintiff’s suffering, stating in part, that the pain plaintiff continues to experience “is of two types. He has nerve pain in his legs, and that nerve pain is perhaps one of the worst pains that you could think of. Imagine somebody stabbing you with a knife, a gazillion times, or with a pin all over the place. That numbness, that tingling, that stabbing sensation” is “present all the time, but it is a constant pain and that pain will not go away.” He depicted plaintiff’s chronic pain by providing the jury with a vivid description of the damage to plaintiff’s spinal column when the rebar went into the area of his spinal cord and the compression fracture also caused by the pipe entering his body. He described the emotional pain sustained by the plaintiff caused by the distress of no longer having the ability to walk and the nerve pain emanating from his legs which he testified was permanent. The jury also heard testimony regarding plaintiff’s chronic bed sores, his cauterization in order to urinate, his inability to control bowel movements, constant urinary tract infections and repeated hospitalization for the conditions described by the Brooklyn Doctor.
A Lawyer said that, the defendant moves pursuant to CPLR §4404 and §5501, to reduce the damages awarded to the plaintiff, after a jury trial, contending that the award is excessive and materially deviates from fair and reasonable compensation.
The issue in this case is whether the damages awarded to plaintiff is excessive and materially deviates from fair and reasonable compensation.
The Court said that, manifestly, pain and suffering awards are not subject to precise standards that permit a purely mathematically evaluation in order to determine whether a verdict deviates materially from what is reasonable compensation. CPLR §5501 requires that: “In reviewing a money judgment in an action in which an itemized verdict is required by rule forty-one hundred eleven of this chapter in which it is contended that the award is excessive or inadequate and that a new trial should have been granted unless a stipulation is entered to a different award, the appellate division shall determine that an award is excessive or inadequate if it deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation.”
It is well established that the language quoted, although specifically directed to the appellate courts, also applies to the trial court mandating the trial court to review jury awards to determine whether the award is excessive or inadequate. Consequently, review under CPLR 5501 requires the trial court to evaluate whether the award deviates from comparable awards and as the court observed, reviewing comparable awards “cannot, due to the inherently subjective nature of non-economic awards, be expected to produce mathematically precise results, much less a per diem pain and suffering rate.” It is also evident that review of jury verdicts for personal injuries to ascertain whether the award is reasonable, involves questions of fact.
Defendant referred this Court to several cases in an effort to convince the Court that the award, in the instant case, is not fair and reasonable. At the outset, this court acknowledges that the verdict rendered by the jury in the case at bar is unprecedented in view of the evidence presented regarding plaintiff’s spinal injuries and the jury award clearly exceeds what can be considered fair and reasonable. However, this recognition regarding the size of the verdict in the instant case does not automatically carry with it the court’s determination that the award falls within the boundaries which defendant suggests would be a fair and reasonable award for the plaintiff, who concededly is a paraplegic experiencing constant pain.
Evaluation of prior awards, in similar personal injury cases is intended to provide guidance to the court in resolving disputed contentions regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of a verdict so that issues such as prejudice or sympathy do not become the motivating factor for the award. The trial court, therefore, in reviewing a jury award must consider the nature of the injury sustained by the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s age, the physical condition of the plaintiff prior to the occurrence, the permanency of the injury sustained, plaintiff’s ability to return to gainful employment, the pain, both physical and emotional, experienced and to be experienced in the future, the extent of future hospitalization and ascertain whether the award in part was generated by the devastating effect of plaintiff’s injury. Here, x rays introduced at the trial showing the presence of the rebar that entered plaintiffs body clearly invoked sympathy by the jury causing in part, a huge verdict that was intended to compensate the plaintiff not only for pain and suffering he sustained but the grief experienced by the impact of the steel rod entering his body. Manifestly, modification of damages awards cannot be based on past precedents alone.
This Court’s review of the cases set forth in this opinion denotes the factors which are considered in assessing what would be reasonable compensation. This process, now completed, does not however provide a clear picture that permits the application of some formula that identifies the limits of compensation for injuries that parallel plaintiff’s suffering. It is undisputed that plaintiff who at one time was a strong and vibrant man is now a wheelchair bound paraplegic. The devastating injury he sustained was caused by the pipe that upon entering his body destroyed his bowel requiring a colostomy bag to collect his waste matter and he is required to manage his bladder with catheters. Plaintiff’s nerve pain in his legs is continuous and permanent. Such injuries, including those previously described, including the permanency of his injuries and his inability to return to gainful employment, are the factors that this court has applied in determining what would be reasonable compensation.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court grants defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict as excessive unless within 30 days after service of a copy of this decision and order with notice of entry plaintiff stipulates to reduce the jury award for past pain and suffering from $20 million to $5 million; for future pain and suffering from $55 million to $10 million, and for future medical related expenses from $10 million to $8,295,000.
Suffering serious and traumatic spinal injuries that renders your whole body paralyzed is difficult to accept. You will need the help of a Bronx Spinal Injury Attorney and Bronx Personal Injury Attorney in order to handle your case. Bronx Injury Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates will make sure that you will be properly compensated. Call us for free consultation.