In September of 2008, a man had a subway accident in New York. He is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and relies upon a cane for mobility. The man fell through a missing portion of a stairwell at the New York City Transit Avenue N station. He fell while he was exiting from the station. This station is elevated and the man fell approximately 30 feet to McDonald Avenue below.
The man sued the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA). There was an approximately four week bifurcated trial (first on the issue of liability). Plaintiff claimed that defendant was negligent by creating a hazardous condition which was not adequately barricaded and/or guarded to prevent access to the stairwell. Defendant claimed that the stairwell, which was being repaired, was adequately barricaded and for plaintiff to have proceeded down the stairs he would have had to either climb over the barricade and/or removed it himself. Therefore, the victim was the cause of the subway accident in New York.
The Liability Trial
In the liability phase of the trial, plaintiff presented an ophthalmologist. He is an expert in the field of low vision therapy and orientation and mobility for the visually impaired. He also presented an eyewitness who was on McDonald Avenue when plaintiff fell to the street. Finally he produced an expert engineer who had worked in the past for defendant NYCTA in removing and replacing stairwells. The NYCTA produced several witnesses. They were responsible for erecting the barriers, removing and replacing the stairs or supervising the work. Essentially, people who were supposed to prevent subway accidents in New York. None of defendant’s witnesses had any independent recollection of performing this work at the Avenue N station. They all testified based upon NYCTA records and defendant’s custom and practice. The jury found the NYCTA and the plaintiff each to be 50% responsible for the subject accident.
The Damages Trial
Next was the damages portion of the subway accident in New York trial. The plaintiff presented evidence that he had sustained compound fractures of the right wrist necessitating two surgeries. This included an open reduction, internal fixation; a fractured hip which necessitated an open reduction, internal fixation; a comminuted calcaneal fracture of his left heel, requiring future surgery; disfiguring surgical scarring; a fractured sacral alar; multiple facial fractures; and, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In support of these claims, plaintiff presented an expert in biomechanical engineering. He testified about how plaintiff sustained his injury from his fall. He also presented his treating orthopedic surgeon, who described his treatment of plaintiff and the permanency of his injuries. Additionally the jury heard from an expert psychiatrist who testified about plaintiff’s PTSD as a result of the subject accident. Finally they heard the expert on low vision therapy and orientation and mobility for the visually impaired.
The Subway Accident in New York Verdict
The NYCTA presented an expert orthopedist who conceded the plaintiff had permanent injures. He further conceded the plaintiff required future surgery to his wrist, hip and ankle/heel. The jury returned a damages verdict of $3,048,000. They gave $1,500,000 for past pain and suffering, $1,500,000 for future pain and suffering. They also awarded $48,000 for future medical expenses over a period of 7 years.
Following the verdict, the plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict. He argued that the verdict finding the plaintiff 50% responsible for the accident was contrary to the weight of evidence. He further argued to add $2,000,000 to the damages award for pain and suffering bringing the total amount to $5,000,000. The NYCTA opposed the motion. They argued that the jury’s liability determination is not against the weight of the evidence. Further they argued that the additur to the award is not appropriate.
The Ruling On The Subway Accident in New York
The Court held that the jury listened to the testimony of plaintiff and expert witnesses for both sides. Further weighed their demeanor and credibility, and evaluated the evidence. These all issues for the trier of the facts. The Court further held that the jury in the instant action performed its function. It properly considered the conflicting testimony of the witnesses and made its determination. The determinatino was not against the weight of the evidence. Therefore, the Court did not set aside the liability verdict and grant additur.