Appeals Court Upholds $1,640,000 Verdict in New York Motorcycle Accident Case

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department affirmed a jury verdict that awarded $1,640,000 to the victim of a motorcycle accident.

The plaintiff was driving down the road on his motorcycle when a car stopped in front of him. The occupant of the car swung the door open, climbed out of the car, and held his arm out. As the plaintiff rapidly approached the driver, he feared that the driver was trying to rob him. The plaintiff then rode around the car by driving up on the sidewalk and rapidly accelerating. In his haste to drive past the driver, the plaintiff lost control of his motorcycle. The motorcycle went up on one wheel, and he fell, sustaining serious injuries.

The driver of the car was a police officer. The police officer was attempting to pull over the plaintiff. However, the officer was not in uniform and was driving an unmarked car. The police officer put his arm out to signal to the plaintiff to stop, which the plaintiff misinterpreted.

At trial, the plaintiff and police officer testified. Both told very different stories. The police officer stated it was obvious he was an officer conducting a traffic stop and that the plaintiff was swerving to escape him. The plaintiff stated he was scared he was about to be robbed and was trying to save himself. After lengthy testimony about the police officer and how he looked when he climbed out of the car and raised his arm, the jury credited the plaintiff over the officer. The jury therefore found the police officer to be negligent. As the employer of the police officer, the City of New York was responsible for defending the case and paying the damages.

An employer can be liable for its employees’ negligence when those employees are on-the-clock and acting in the performance of their duties. Here, the police officer was on duty and conducting a traffic stop. The negligent manner in which the traffic stop was conducted caused the motorcycle accident. Therefore, the City of New York, which funds the police department, is responsible for the injuries.

In rendering its verdict, the jury found the plaintiff 15% responsible and the defendant 85% responsible. The jury then awarded the plaintiff $500,000 for past pain and suffering and $1,140,000 for future pain and suffering.

New York is a comparative fault state. This means that if a plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, he is not barred from bringing a negligence lawsuit against the defendant.When returning its verdict, the jury will apportion fault and will award damages based on this apportionment. Here, because the plaintiff was 15% responsible for his accident, the jury reduced his damage award to reflect this.

The defendant appealed the verdict, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support a finding for the plaintiff. Appellate courts very rarely reverse jury verdict on sufficiency of the evidence grounds. Here, the First Department held that the jury’s finding that the police officer was the proximate cause of the motorcycle accident was based on legally sufficient evidence. The court refused to disrupt the verdict.

In addition, the defendant argued that the damages awarded for future pain and suffering were unreasonable. If damage awards materially deviate from what is reasonable under the circumstances, the court may reduce them. Here, however, the evidence presented at trial showed that the plaintiff suffered serious and permanent physical injuries due to the accident. These physical injuries included multiple bone fractures that required three surgeries, a future ankle replacement surgery, decreased range of motion, permanent limitation in ability to do physical activities, and permanent and worsening arthritis. As such, the First Department held the damages award for future pain and suffering was reasonable given the severity of injuries and pain from those injuries.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a car accident or motorcycle accident, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC today to review your potential negligence claims.

Bonano v. City of New York, 125 AD3d 502 (1st Dept. 2015).

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