Not So Fast – 1st Dept. Affirms Trial Court’s Reduction of Damages (NY)

In Mosley v. E.H.J. LLC, the Appellate Division, First Department unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling that granted defendants’ motion to set aside the damages verdict.

After trial in Bronx County, a jury awarded plaintiff $350,000 for past pain and suffering and $1.3 million for future pain and suffering. The decision does not opine on the specifics of the injury, except to note that there was a twisted ankle, and a positive MRI, which presumably showed a tear.

Defense moved to set aside the verdict and direct a new trial on damages unless the plaintiff stipulated to reduce the past pain and suffering award to $150,000 and the future pain and suffering to $250,000.

Mosley fell when her ankle twisted on a sidewalk defect upon exiting defendants’ store.  The Court did not upset the jury’s liability finding, but found that the plaintiff’s expert improperly relied on a report of Mosley’s post-accident MRI which compared a pre-accident MRI that was not admitted into evidence.  An MRI report is technically hearsay, which is why radiological experts are needed under such circumstances.  Additionally, the expert had not reviewed any pre-accident medical records.  Generally, an expert’s opinion is discredited if medicals are reviewed in a vacuum without considering pertinent prior treatment or injury.  Now, the Court found this error to be harmless because plaintiff’s spine was not a major component of the damages award, but found the trial court’s ruling to reduce the damages did not deviate from reasonable compensation.

This is a major victory in Bronx County where plaintiff-friendly juries routinely award inflated damages for injuries sustained.  While it is in unknown whether Plaintiff elected to stipulate to damages or went through with a second damages trial, it’s reassuring to find Courts are not afraid to reduce jury verdicts when they go above and beyond the value of an injury. On the flip side, this decision is also a cautionary tale, which demonstrates what juries might award for a seemingly modest injury.

Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.