Construction Worker Recovers for Aggravation of Prior Back Injuries

NY Appellate Court Upholds $2.4 Million Award for Construction Worker Who Injured Back Despite Prior Back Problems  In an accident sometimes a person suffers a totally new injury, but other times they suffer aggravation or exacerbation of an old injury. The Appellate Division for New York's First Judicial Department has upheld an award of $3.1million dollars from a jury verdict in the case of Burnett Williams v. City of New York, New City Transit Authority Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2013 NY Slip Op 03026. At trial, Mr. Williams was awarded $2.4 million in damages for his pain and suffering alone.  The Plaintiff in the lawsuit, Burnett Williams, was a 56-year-old lead inspector. He was working at a New York subway station job site when he slipped and fell after stepping on an unsecured plank. He fell through the wooden planks, landing on his buttocks and l lower back on a steel beam situated underneath them. After the fall, Williams, experienced lower back pain, as well as pain radiating down his legs. The fall caused a "worsening of his pre-existing low back injury." As a result, he underwent two spinal surgery procedures.  Mr. Williams had a history of low back pain before the slip and fall incident and he had been temporarily disabled from his employment as a result. Williams had sought medical treatment for his condition before his accident had occurred and had continued this treatment right up to the time of the accident. Before the accident, Williams consulted medical doctors and had several consultations with a spine surgeon. He was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his lumbar spine, located between the rib cage and the pelvis. His medical treatment also included taking pain medications, both orally and by injection. Williams also underwent physical therapy. While a slip and fall accident victim may have coverage to pay for these types of expenses, whether through worker's compensation, an employer-sponsored plan or private coverage, receipts for any treatment, prescription or procedure performed as a result of the accident should be kept. They should be documented and included in the claim for damages. In Mr. Williams' case, his attorneys argued before the jury and the appellate court that the fall on the job site resulted in an injury which worsened his pre-existing low back condition. Both of them agreed with this argument, and Mr. Williams received a significant monetary award as a result.  The defendants in the case, The City of New York and The New York City Transit Authority, argued that Mr. Williams health concerns and the medical treatment he required were due to his prior injury and were not related to the fall he sustained on the New York subway job site. The defense had made an offer to settle Williams' claim before the verdict for $195,000.00. Once the statutory interest is added to the jury verdict, Mr. Williams will be owed more than $3 million more than the offer to settle which was turned down.  The Court of Appeal considered the original jury verdict, which was as follows:
  • $1.2 million for past pain and suffering
  • $2 million for future pain and suffering over 15 years
  • $312,000.00 for past lost wages
  • $225,000.00 for future lost earnings over 4.5 years
  • $159,000.00 for past medical expenses
  • $115,00.00 for future medical expenses over 15 years 
The Court of Appeal concurred that the jury award for medical expenses and lost wages was supported by the evidence presented at trial and was not excessive. The jury found that the accident had aggravated Williams' pre-existing condition and that the accident had caused new injuries. The Court of Appeal also found the accident was "a substantial cause of the treatment" [Williams] received. Mr. Williams was not able to work as a result of the accident and would require care for the rest of his life due to the "compromised nature of his spine."  The award for past and future suffering was not considered excessive. Mr. Williams underwent a discectomy, followed by a fusion surgery which resulted in the removal of his L4/L5 discs. Following these procedures, Mr. Williams underwent a discogram, as well as an IDET, both of which are very painful procedures. He also endured several epidural injections.  The Court did find that the award for future pain and suffering was excessive in the circumstances. It noted that Mr. Williams testified that although he lives with significant pain, his condition had improved considerably since 2007. He said that he had what he described as "good days" four days per week, and that he was capable of performing household chores, walking a mile and doing errands during those times.  If you are injured in an accident you should consult with an experienced New York personal injury attorney such as Zalman Schnurman & Miner.  Call 1-800-LAWLINE (1-800-529-5463) for a free consultation.

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