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How Do Jurors Quantify Emotional Damage at Trial? (NY)

May 29, 2019

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It is not unheard of for multi-million dollar verdicts to be awarded in cases of medical malpractice or labor law, where the orthopedic injuries and lost earnings are clearly established.  But when a plaintiff is awarded an 8-figure verdict in a non-surgical motor vehicle accident case, where the most significant damages relate less to physical impairment than mental and emotional impairment, the verdict can raises some eyebrows.  EMT Brandon Dorsa, however, was the recipient of an <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Jury-Awards-11.5M-to-EMT-Whose-Ambulance-Flipped-in-Crash.pdf">$11.5M verdict in Brooklyn</a> after his ambulance was struck by an SUV and flipped over near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

In a bifurcated trial, the jury deliberated only six minutes on liability and twelve minutes on damages before awarding $1.5M for past pain and suffering, and $10M for future damages.  (The award will be reduced to $1.25M pursuant to a pre-trial high-low agreement between the parties -- still a significant award for a fractured vertebrae with no surgery.)

The crux of the damages case came from extensive pain management injections and opioid medication for the neck and back pain.  When medication failed to alleviate the 30-year old’s pain, he turned to alcoholism and non-prescription drugs.  He claimed to suffer from PTSD, and alleged that he had attempted suicide seven times since the July 3, 2015 accident.

This verdict demonstrates that, particularly in cases of clear liability, cases with a psychological or emotional component bear significant risk at trial.  While physical injuries are more quantifiable, there are more variables in predicting how a jury will relate to a young man on the cusp of marriage and a career, derailed to life of addiction and suicide attempts.   The risk is enhanced when the plaintiff is represented by a skilled attorney, as trial counsel Peter Thomas certainly has proven himself to be over the years.  Emotional trauma is considered an invisible injury because it is not something that can be seen on a scan or repaired with surgery, but can nevertheless lead to high, even exorbitant verdicts, if the "stars align" in plaintiff's favor at trial.  Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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