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Premises Accident – Failure to Repair Broken Trash Chute Door – Housekeeper Suffers Fractured Finger with Deformity and Trigger Finger – Verdict: $598,000 reduced to $448,500 for 25% comparative negligence of Pltf. [1996-01-19]

Staff Writer [The New York Jury Verdict Reporter]
The New York Jury Verdict Reporter

Emalinda Ramirez v. New York City Housing Authority 20326/92 11-day Verdict 12/20/95 Judge Barry Salman, Bronx Supreme.

VERDICT

$598,000 reduced to $448,500 for 25% comparative negligence of Pltf. Breakdown: $38,000 for past pain and suffering; $80,000 for past lost earnings; $200,000 for future pain and suffering; $280,000 for future lost earnings (10 years). Jury: 1 male, 5 female. Pltf. Atty: Peter DeFilippis, Manhattan

Deft. Atty: Jerome D. Patterson of Shapiro, Beilly, Rosenberg, Albert & Fox, Manhattan

Facts:

Pltf., a 50-year old union housekeeper for a Housing Authority tenant, claimed that on 4/4/90 she was injured when the chute door leading to the trash compactor in the basement of the tenant’s apartment building slammed abruptly on her hand. Pltf. argued the tenant, a notice witness, made two complaints to Deft.’s employees and superintendent and twice showed them the hopper door 2 weeks before the incident. Pltf. claimed that Deft. negligently failed to repair the defective chute door. Plft.’s chute expert testified that he examined the door several years after the incident and noted that the counterweight at the rear of the door was attached by only one of the two bolts. He testified that the counterweight would swing into the area of the chute itself when the door was opened from its hinge on the bottom and that when trash from the floors above struck the counterweight, it forced the door to shut abruptly. The tenant testified that her son injured his hand in a similar manner approximately 2 weeks prior to Pltf.’s accident.

Deft. argued that there was no evidence that the door was in this condition at the time of the incident. Deft. argued on summation that Pltf. was comparatively negligent because the tenant had warned her that the door was broken and she should have used another hopper door on another floor.

Injuries: fractured fifth finger of the right (dominant) hand resulting in a mallet finger deformity; severe trauma to the palm resulting in nodule that caused “trigger finger” in the fourth finger, reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Pltf. claimed that she suffers pain and restriction of motion in the hand. She testified that she is unable to work. Pltf.’s neurologist testified that surgical repair was only partially successful. A member of the Workers’ Compensation Board testified on behalf of Pltf. that they found a 20% scheduled loss of use of the right hand stressing damage to two fingers, and permanent disability. Pltf., a member of the Service Employee’s International Union, testified that she attempted to look for alternative employment, but was unsuccessful. Pltf.’s vocational expert testified that she will not obtain alternative work, based on her age, experience, disability, and the fact that she only speaks Spanish. Pltf.’s economist testified that based on wages and benefits, the value of lost earnings would exceed $500,000 through the age of 71.

Deft. contested the injury, arguing that the trigger finger was not related to the incident that there were no complaints in the emergency room records about the fourth finger or the palm. Pltf. argued that she made these complaints, but that they were not recorded. The emergency room doctor admitted on cross-examination that Pltf. sustained a fracture, but she omitted this from her notes. Demonstrative evidence: actual hopper door; enlarged photographs of the door with the broken, protruding counterweight; chute expert’s sketches showing the counterweight extending into the chute. Offer: $10,000 prior to the verdict; demand: $400,000. Jury deliberation: 2 hours. Pltf. Expert: Steven Hebert, chute and hopper expert, Action Chutes, Holmes, New York; Dr. Irving Friedman, neurologist, Bronx; Fern Schor, vocational rehabilitation; Edmund Mantell, economist, Scarsdale. Deft. Expert: Dr. Murray Burton, orth. surg., Manhattan.