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Court Orders Higher Verdict In Partner Thomas Giuffra’s Sistrunk Trial

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

What happens when you win a case, but the jury fails to award damages which adequately pay for your injuries? According to Dannick v. County of Onondaga, a trial court has discretion to set aside a verdict when it is palpably irrational and increase the award which is known as “additur.” In a case litigated by trial partner Thomas P. Giuffra, the plaintiff Wayne Sistrunk was provisionally awarded $600,000 more than the jury awarded. Under this additur award, the defendant can choose to accept it or proceed with another trial on money damages only.

The plaintiff, Wayne Sistrunk, was injured as a result of falling 20 feet in a 40 foot excavation site while constructing the Onondaga County Midland Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant. In September of 2012, a jury ruled against the defendants finding them negligent and guilty of Labor Law violations. As a result of the fall, Mr Sistrunk was left partially disabled, limiting him physically and thus restricting his working capacity to sedentary work.

The jury awarded damages for past economic loss, and past pain and suffering. They also awarded future damages for loss of earnings, pension benefits, health insurance benefits, and loss of household services however, no award was made with regard to future medical expenses or future pain and suffering.

With regard to damages, the jury made the following awards:

  • Past pain and suffering: $75,000.00 + $175,000.00 (by Judge)
  • Past loss of earnings: $209,245.00
  • Past loss of Pension Benefits: $50,608.00
  • Past loss of health insurance benefits: $17,555.00
  • Future pain and suffering: $250,000 (by Judge)
  • Future medical expenses: $100,000 (by Judge)
  • Future loss of earnings: $104,610.25 (14.25 years)
  • Future loss of Pension Benefits: $144,116.28 (30.06 years)
  • Future loss of health insurance benefits: $8,602.02 (14 years)
  • Future loss of household services: $24,101.28 (30.6 years)

Previous precedent set out in Caraso v. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Inc. provides that where a jury finds for past pain and suffering and future loss of earnings, but makes no award for future pain and suffering, the verdict is inconsistent and should be set aside. Mr. Sistrunk’s award of damages was clearly inconsistent and the award showed the jury’s belief that the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Large awards have previously been upheld with regard to the types of damages the plaintiff is seeking, as was evident in Kane v. Courndorous where the appellate division supported the court’s additur of $250,000 for future pain and suffering. It should be noted that Mr. Sistrunk suffered similar permanent partial disability as the plaintiff in Kane.

Given that the disability Mr. Sistrunk suffered due to the accident prevents him from returning to his field of work, it is clear that the accident has affected many aspects of his life. In support of this view, the plaintiff’s treating physicians testified that he will experience ongoing pain and suffering resulting in additional medical bills and other rehabilitation costs. The testimony clearly supports the request for monetary damages for future pain and suffering. To deprive Mr. Sistrunk of this award would be inconsistent with the weight of evidence and leave Mr. Sistrunk financially burdened with future medical expenses necessitated by an accident caused by the County of Onondage and Murnane Building Contractors, Inc negligence.

The court has granted the plaintiff with a new trial on all damages, unless the defendants stipulate to an award of $250,000.00 in damages for past pain and suffering, $250,000.00 in damages for future pain and suffering, and future medical expenses in the amount $l00,000.00.

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