Motor Vehicle 17-Year-Old Passenger In Cargo Area Of Rental Van Unequipped With Seats Or Seat Belts Maintenance Work Being Performed On Williamsburg Bridge Leaves Inadequate Transition Lane Paraplegia

VERDICT: $11,259,935 (6/0).

Breakdown: $1,000,000 for past pain and suffering; $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering (40 years); $454,935 for past medical expenses; $7,770,000 for future medical expenses, custodial care, and rehabilitation; $35,000 for past lost earnings; $1,000,000 for future lost earnings.

Liability: Ore 75%; City 25% negligent. Jury: .3 male, 3 female. A post-trial motion is pending.
XV/17-1 Motor Vehicle 17-Year-Old Passenger In Cargo Area Of Rental Van Unequipped With Seats Or Seat Belts Maintenance Work Being Performed On Williamsburg Bridge Leaves Inadequate Transition Lane Paraplegia

Linda Davis-Ore, indiv. and as m/n/g of Kevin Grant v. John Ore; Tri- Boro Rentals, Inc.; Delson Leasing Corp.; Allan Loke; and the City of New York 29521/91 5-week trial Verdict 8/29/97 Kings Supreme Judge: Aaron D. Bernstein

Pltf. Atty: Harvey Weitz and Clifford J. Stern of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot, Manhattan

Deft. Atty: Jeffrey N. Rejan of Kroll & Tract, L.L.P., Manhattan, for Tri-Boro Rentals, Delson Leasing, and Ore; Annalise F. Cottone for Frank V. Merlino, Hauppauge, for Loke Saadia Luzzi, Asst. Corp. Counsel, for City of New York

Pltf., a 17-year-old high school student at the time, was a passenger in the cargo area of a van driven by his stepfather, Deft. Ore (75% liable), and rented from Tri-Boro Rentals, when this accident occurred at 3:30 PM on 8/31/91 on the Williamsburg Bridge. The cargo area did not contain seats or seat belts. Deft. City of New York (25% liable) was performing maintenance work underneath the roadway of the bridge, and had parked two vehicles in the right-hand lane of the inner roadway of the bridge. Those vehicles were protected by a yellow arrowboard truck with an 8-foot impact attenuator pltf. s-van was proceeding eastbound in the right- hand lane behind another truck. The City claimed that trucks were prohibited on the inner roadway. Pltfs. claimed that when the first unidentified) truck suddenly veered into the left-hand lane, Deft. Ore was confronted with an emergency situation because the sudden presence of the arrowboard truck left him with inadequate time and space to transfer to the left lane. Pltf. contended that the City failed to provide an adequate transition lane from the right lane to the left, leading to this accident. The van struck the attenuator and arrowboard truck with its right side and, in turn, was struck by the Loke vehicle, traveling in the left lane, almost simultaneously. Loke contended that the van cut in front of his vehicle. The City argued that the transition lane, which was 500 feet in length, was adequate, and that there were cones and warnings present. It was disputed at trial as to whether the Ore vehicle was already traveling in the left lane prior to impact.

Defts. originally had claimed mitigation of damages by reason of Pltf. s failure to wear an available seat belt; during the damages trial they were permitted to claim that Pltf. was negligent because he knew that he would be unbelted and unseated in the van. The jury found for Pltf. on Defts. claim.

Injuries: fracture of the spine at T-7, resulting in paraplegia. Prior to the accident Pltf. had demonstrated behavioral problems at school. Post-accident, he had completed his high school education and was attending college and receiving remedial courses. Deft. argued that because of his pre-accident problems, Pltf. would probably never have achieved more than a minimum wage job. It was noted that Pltf. was totally independent in activities of daily living, and during the course of trial was absent while competing in an international wheelchair basketball competition. Pltfs. claimed that his prognosis for continued good health was poor in that he had undergone three previous surgical procedures for decubitus ulcers and suffered from urinary tract infections. Demonstrative evidence: photographs of the vehicle and bridge; diagrams of the vehicle positions pre- and post-accident; mock-up of the appropriate line delineation and sight lines; economic charts; models of the spine; positive prints of X-rays and enlargements of CAT scans. No offer by City; $10,000 policy by Loke; $100,000 policy by Ore; demand: $5,000, 000; amount asked of jury: $20,000,000. Jury deliberation: 6 hours on liability; 4 hours on damages. Carriers: Allstate for Loke; Providence Washington Ins. Co. for Ore, Tri-Boro, and Delson.

Pltf. Experts: Dr. Kristjan Ragnarsson, physical and rehabilitative medicine, Manhattan; Dr. Michael Lampert, orth. surg., Manhattan; Dr. Armen Kasabian, plastic surgeon, Manhattan; Al Mickens, Ph.D., economist, Manhattan; Fred Hanscom, accident reconstruction, Haymarket, Virginia.

Deft. Experts: Dr. Murray Budabin, neurologist, Manhattan; James Otis, biomechanical engineer, Manhattan; James Pascuiti, vocational rehabilitation, Springfield, New Jersey.


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