First Department Upholds $250,000 Jury Verdict for Infant Injured by Projectile Rock

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department affirmed a trial court’s order that denied both the defendant’s motion for new trial and the defendant’s motion to reduce judgment interest rate in a personal injury case involving a lawnmower accident.

An employee of the New York City Housing Authority was mowing a lawn using a lawnmower. The plaintiff, a small child, was standing near the yard. When the lawnmower ran over a rock, the machine ingested the rock and then rapidly ejected it at the plaintiff. The rock struck the plaintiff on the left shin. The projectile rock caused serious and permanent damage. The plaintiff suffered from a large, open gash with exposed shin bone, a spiral fracture in his left tibia bone, and permanent damage to the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and nerves in his leg. The plaintiff was immediately hospitalized and remained in the hospital for 3 days where he was outfitted with a cast and necrotic tissue was removed. The plaintiff wore the cast for 6.5 weeks. When the cast was removed, he was left with a permanent scar that ran the length of his shin. Due to permanent muscle and tendon damage, the plaintiff can no longer participate in sports.

As a result of the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority. Even though the New York City Housing Authority itself was not personally responsible for the accident, its employee was, and the employee was acting as an agent of the Housing Authority when he was mowing the lawn. Employers are responsible for the actions of their employees and can be liable when the employees act negligently while on duty and performing their work tasks. This employee was tasked with mowing lawns for properties owned by the Housing Authority. The employee must take care when mowing lawns to ensure he operates the lawn mower safely. Running over a rock is dangerous – it can damage the lawn mower and can cause an accident such as this. Because the employee acted negligently by running over the rock, the Housing Authority was liable for his negligence.

The parties proceeded to trial, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded the plaintiff $250,000 for past pain and suffering at 9% interest per annum. Judgments accrue interest until they are paid in full. Many losing defendants do not have the available funds up-front to pay a judgment in full at the close of the case, especially if the verdict is quite large. To assist the plaintiff, who must wait for this payment from the defendant, and to incentivize the defendant to pay earlier, the court will often order interest that accrues annually on the remaining balance of the judgment.

Here, the interest rate was 9%, which is the average for civil cases in New York. However, the Housing Authority moved to reduce the interest rate and instead requested a 3% interest rate. The Court of Appeals has held that 9% is a “presumptively fair and reasonable” interest rate in a personal injury case involving the same defendant. In order to rebut this reasonable interest rate, the defendant must show a valid reason for a lowered interest rate or must show that the interest rate, given the circumstances, is not fair or reasonable. Here, the Housing Authority failed to rebut the presumption. As such, the motion was properly denied.

The Housing Authority also argued that the $250,000 award for past pain and suffering was unreasonable. However, given the circumstances, including the extent of the injury and its effect on the plaintiff’s ability to participate in physical activities, the First Department held that the award did not materially deviate from the realm of reasonable compensation.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, you have legal options. To discuss your right to compensation, call the skilled personal injury lawyers at Gallivan & Gallivan today to schedule a free consultation.

Roy L.N., Jr. v. New York City Housing Authority, 125 AD3d 471 (1st Dept. 2015).

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