Painful Verdict for Pain and Suffering (NY)
The Bronx has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly verdicts, and the case of Cabrera v Port Auth. of N.Y. N.J. (2020 NY Slip Op 03993) did not disappoint. Plaintiff, an employee at a Dunkin Donuts franchise at LaGuardia Airport, was involved in an accident with a salt spreading truck in the parking lot during a snowfall. After a jury trial, she was awarded future damages for only a period of three years, yet was awarded $12 million dollars. Fortunately for the defense, the First Department found many instances of reversible error warranting a new trial.
First, the court truncated proof on whether the parking lot was public or private, which directly impacted whether the jury should been charged with the recklessness standard set forth in NY VTL §1103 or VTL §1163. This alone was enough for a new trial, but the court had made a trifecta of mistakes.
The second error came in precluding defendant’s accident reconstruction expert from testifying. The Appellate Division found the lower court’s in limine inquiry of the expert concerning scientific studies was irrelevant to the subject of his testimony. Additionally, any deficiencies in the expert disclosure could have been remedied by limiting the testimony, not precluding it.
Finally, a retrial on damages was necessary because the defense medical expert was improperly barred from testifying on the issue of whether plaintiff’s injuries were traumatically induced and whether the surgeries were necessary and appropriate. Any one of these errors would warrant a new trial, but all three, combined with a future damages award of $12 million dollars for a period of only three years, certainly required a new trial. This case confirms that unsupported and excessive jury verdicts will be scrutinized by the court.
Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.