$2,558,000 Settlement for Family of Car Passenger Killed as a Result of Improperly-Placed Traffic Signal and Negligent Driving

DATE OF VERDICT/SETTLEMENT

June 23, 2005

COURT AND COUNTY

Supreme Court, Kings County

AGE AND OCCUPATION OF PLAINTIFF

Plaintiff, acting individually and as administratrix of her husband's estate, was a homemaker at the time of the accident and subsequently took a job as a data-entry person. Her decedent husband resided in North Carolina, working as a machine operator. At the time of the subject accident that took his life, decedent was 31-years-old.

DESCRIPTION OF CASE

On October 1, 2000, Plaintiff was a passenger in a four-door sedan that was being operated by co-defendant driver, who was traveling westbound on Blake Avenue, near its intersection with Mother Gaston Boulevard, in Brooklyn. As the vehicle proceeded through the intersection, its passenger side was struck by a vehicle that was being operated by co-defendant, another motorist who was traveling in her car on southbound Mother Gaston Boulevard. Both drivers died. Plaintiff sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and died nine months later.

Plaintiff's wife commenced a wrongful-death suit against the estates of Co-defendants, alleging that they were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles. Plaintiff sued the city of New York, alleging that the city was negligent in failing to uphold its duty to keep streets in a reasonably safe condition.

Plaintiff administratrix claimed that at the subject intersection the traffic signal was mounted on a lower pole standing on the street corner instead of overhead. She alleged that this kept the signal out of a driver's normal mind of vision. She contended that the city failed to alleviate that known hazardous roadway condition once it was informed.

Plaintiff's counsel alleged that the city called for the installation of overhead traffic signals at the same intersection as far back as 1967 and revisited the site with the same conclusion in 1974 and 1984.

The city initially contended that it performed a traffic study in 1984 that called for the installation of overhead traffic signals at the subject intersection. It contended that budgetary and engineering conflicts restricted it from constructing the proposed signals at the intersection.

Plaintiff's counsel opined that it was unreasonable to believe that the city could not afford installing a series of overhead traffic signals at the intersection for 33 years. They argued that every other intersection in the neighborhood received such signal devices during the 1980s.

Plaintiff's counsel also contended that the engineering defense also failed because the city installed overhead traffic signals in the immediate wake of the accident and exactly followed the 1967 plans.

Plaintiff's counsel called a Department of Transportation employee, who testified at deposition that overhead traffic signals became "state of the art" and the "norm" as far back as the early 1970s because they could be observed more clearly and for greater distances than traffic signals that were affixed to street-corner poles. He further testified that the subject intersection "slipped through the cracks," but that at the time of the accident, he was under the impression that overhead traffic devices had been installed pursuant to the city's plans. Plaintiff's counsel alleged that the city failed to inspect the subject intersection during the 33 years since the first call for an overhead traffic signal.

Plaintiff's counsel further contended that during the two years preceding the accident, 60 accidents occurred at the intersection and that many involved a driver going through the red light governing traffic on Mother Gaston Boulevard. The subject Boulevard had overhead traffic signals before and beyond the subject intersection, and co-defendant driver of the car in which passenger was would not have been looking for traffic-signal poles on the side of the roadway, but was conditioned to look for signals overhead on that boulevard.

A non-party witness called by the defense, testified at deposition that he was driving next to co-defendant in the same direction. He testified that the co-defendant went through a red light and was speeding.

INJURIES/DAMAGES

Decedent was placed in an ambulance and transported to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, in Brooklyn. He sustained a traumatic brain injury to his left temporal region and blunt head trauma with decreased mental capabilities and seizures. On Oct. 18, 2000, an EEG confirmed that decedent sustained biconical dysfunction and slowed brain activity.

Decedent's right eye was also removed, rendering him partially blind. He sustained multiple facial fractures that resulted in difficulty breathing and ultimately endotracheal intubation for his upper airway obstruction.

On Oct. 20, decedent underwent reduction and fixation surgery with cranial facial halo fixation and maxillomandibular fixation with winter arch bars and outriggers for his Lefort-III fracture. The procedure reduced the size of decedent's jaw, and the wiring forced his mid-face backward and upward for a distance of about 1.5 centimeters. Decedent also underwent partial tongue resection. Decedent also sustained a fracture of the superior border of his right scapula and heterotopic ossification of his right elbow.

During his nine month in different hospitals, decedent developed a series of problems. On May 13, decedent died after repeated bouts of respiratory distress. Decedent is survived by his wife, the Plaintiff administratrix, as well as his two children, who were 4 and 5 at the time of his death.

Plaintiff's counsel claimed that the family's lost earnings and benefits were $2,482,525, based on decedent's last filing W-2 filing of $26,340.79 with a 5.9% growth rate applied and a 29% fringe-benefits package. Plaintiff's counsel claimed that the family's loss of household services was $1,198,729.67. Plaintiff administratrix would have presented a loss-of-consortium claim at trial and a loss-of-spiritual-guidance claim on behalf of their children. She also sought recovery of damages for her husband's conscious pain and suffering.

The defendants did not contest decedent's injuries.

VERDICT/SETTLEMENT AMOUNT

The parties agreed to a $2,558,333.33 pretrial settlement for pain and suffering to be distributed, as per the North Carolina wrongful death statute, between the surviving spouse and two surviving children. The city agreed to contribute $2.5 million; co-defendant's insurers paid $25,000 (driver of the car in which decedent was passenger) and $33,333.33 (other driver), respectively.

ATTORNEYS

This matter was handled by Daniel P. O'Toole, Esq.