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Jury Award for Medical Malpractice Victim Restored on Appeal

In the case of Garzon v. Batash (2020 NY Slip Op 03501), the Appellate Division, Second Department has reduced a jury award to a victim of medical malpractice to a fraction of its original amount. Initially, the victim was awarded $1,500,000 at trial for past pain and suffering, with an additional $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering, for a combined total of $2,500,000. However, in a post-trial motion, the defendant successfully argued the award should be reduced to $550,000 for past pain and suffering and $100,000 for future pain and suffering. The plaintiff appealed the decision.

The case was initiated by a patient who alleged that, during a routine endoscopy, the doctor performing the procedure perforated her small intestine. An endoscopy is a procedure where a special camera, known as an endoscope, is inserted into the body to visually examine the inside of an organ, such as the stomach or intestines. In this case, the camera went through the wall of the small intestine, which required an emergency surgery to repair. 

Subsequently, the patient claimed she suffered side effects that she blamed on the surgery, including bowel obstruction, hernias, and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. She was also left with a permanent seven-and-a-half-inch abdominal scar, a result of the exploratory laparotomy that was needed to locate and repair the perforation. The case subsequently went to trial, where a jury awarded the plaintiff with $1,500,000 for past pain and suffering, and $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering.

The defendant asked the lower court to have the award set aside, and asked, among other things, that the jury award be reduced to $550,000 for past pain and suffering and $100,000 for future pain and suffering. The lower court granted this request, reducing the award by nearly three quarters. As granted, the order gave the plaintiff two options: agree to the drastic reduction in her award or go to trial a second time to litigate the value of the reward. The plaintiff appealed to have the original amount awarded by the jury restored.

Under the law, a jury award may be set aside only if it “deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation” (citing CPLR 5501[c]; Garcia v CPS 1 Realty, LP, 164 AD3d 656. 659; Ouijano v American Tr.Ins. Co., 155 AD3d 981. 983). However, as the court also notes, previous awards for similar injuries are intended to be guidelines as to what constitutes “reasonable compensation,” not binding law. Consideration is also meant to be given to additional factors, like the nature and extent of the injuries suffered (citing Taveras v Vega, 119 AD3d at 854).

The court agreed to a large extent with the plaintiff, as it agreed the trial court judge reduced the jury award too much. Upon examination of the facts and the law, the court determined that the award for past pain and suffering, as reduced by the court, was entirely appropriate given the nature of the injury the plaintiff suffered. However, the court modified the lower court order, with respect to the costs of the future pain and suffering award only. In this modified version of the court order, the plaintiff’s award for future pain and suffering would be reduced to $500,000, not $100,000.

This decision was based upon how similar cases were decided in the past. Given the nature and extent of the injuries she suffered, the Appellate Division determined that $550,000 was entirely appropriate for her past pain and suffering. However, it said the $100,000 awarded for future pain and suffering differed materially from other, similar cases, thus meriting an increase to $500,000. However, fully restoring the award was too extreme in the opposite direction, according to the court, and thus modified the lower court order to increase that award from $100,000 to $500,000.

While not entirely a victory for a plaintiff, the appeal turned out far better than it potentially could have. Had the appeal gone as the defendant wanted, it would potentially have reduced her award by nearly three quarters. This way, however, even if she stipulates to the new award as dictated by the Appellate Division, she will keep $1,050,000 of the original $2,500,000. However, it is far from a complete victory, and either side could still appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals.

The injury attorneys at Duffy & Duffy are here to defend victims of medical malpractice, on Long Island and beyond. Our trial lawyers have years of experience litigating and resolving negligence claims, and we can use our knowledge and skill to pursue the compensation you deserve. We serve communities throughout New York, including Queens and the Bronx as well as Nassau, Kings, and Suffolk Counties. For a free consultation, call us at (516)-394-4200, or visit our contact page.