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$110 Million Verdict for Cyclist Paralyzed by Falling Railroad Tie During Subway Maintenance

Our client was riding his bike on Broadway Street in Bushwick when he was struck by a falling railroad tie due to a track replacement project happening on the J/M Line overhead. There was a critical 12-foot gap in the barricades marking the ‘drop zone’ where the debris was going to fall, and none of the workers from the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) warned our client of the falling object hazard until it was too late.

In an 11-day trial that spanned three weeks, the jury found the Transit Authority 100% liable for our client’s injuries and rendered a verdict of $110,174,972.38, believed to be the largest non-medical malpractice verdict in the history of New York. This matter was handled by Partners Scott Occhiogrosso and Daniel P. O’Toole.

Court and County
Supreme, Kings

Plaintiff Description
Our client was 23 years old when this accident occurred. He decided to go for a bike ride that day, because it was a warm Sunday during the spring, and he was looking to get some exercise and buy a video game to play with his girlfriend’s brother.

Description of Case
Our client left his girlfriend’s house on Hancock Street in Bed Stuy so he could head towards a GameStop store in Bushwick. He soon arrived at Broadway, a busy two-way street filled with storefronts, apartments, and overhead train tracks. Broadway has one travel lane going in each direction, and each of these lanes has a parking lane next to it – a total of four lanes. Metal barricades were placed to mark off where the overhead work was being performed, turning this stretch of Broadway into a narrower, two-lane street.

Our client was biking along this narrow stretch when he noticed an area up ahead where the metal barricades were extended further out into the roadway. Because this would have forced him closer to other vehicles on the road, our client made the instinctual decision to ride to the slight right of the barricades, where there was a large gap. Before doing so, our client asked a nearby worker if it was safe for him to ride through. The worker indicated that it was fine, without warning our client of the ongoing construction work happening above his head.

Unbeknownst to our client, the work happening above his head was rife with basic, avoidable errors that would prove extremely costly. The project was to replace 4 ‘spans’ of track which ran about 160 feet onto the Manhattan-bound side. A span is the metal rail the train runs on. The rails are laid on top of railroad ties, or the wooden planks that run crossways to the metal rails. The railroad ties are then connected to the rails by metal tie plates.

To remove these railroad spans, welders cut them into smaller segments and a crane lifts them away. This creates a potential falling object hazard, however, if the railroad ties are rotten, meaning they might break away from the rail when it is lifted. To protect against this, transit workers are supposed to inspect the railroad ties ahead of time. Any railroad ties that are identified as possibly being rotten can be zip-tied to the rail to protect against the possibility of them breaking off and falling to the street below.

On this day, however, the workers did not inspect any of the railroad ties. If they had, they would have noticed one was rotten.

That rotten railroad tie fell, not yet to the street below, but onto one of the steel girders. At this point, they could have cut the railroad tie into pieces and had them brought safely back up to the tracks using a ‘genie boom,’ or tie the pieces with ropes and bring them down slowly and safely that way.

Instead, two transit workers dragged the 10-foot tie to a hole in the girder and blindly dropped it onto the street below.

Dropping the debris like this would not have been such a costly mistake, if the workers had taken the time to ensure the ‘drop zone’ was clear. As numerous transit workers testified, the drop zone is supposed to be a designated area that is left clear so that nobody is injured by falling debris.

Unfortunately, as our client rode alongside the barricades, which he was told was safe to do, he came upon this drop zone. But while this drop zone is supposed to be clearly barricaded so that nobody can enter while work is ongoing, there was a twelve foot gap in the barricade around the drop zone, right where our client was told he could ride.

Obviously, this twelve foot gap was a critical error on the part of the transit workers. But it only became a catastrophic, life-changing error when those workers blindly dropped the debris down into the hole of the girder, without checking to see that the drop zone was clear.

Other transit workers claimed that when they saw our client entering into the drop zone, they called out in warning – but it was too late, and the rotten 10-foot railroad tie fell directly onto our client, in the exact spot where the transit workers should have known that the debris was going to fall.

Injuries & Damages
Unfortunately, our client’s thoracic spine was destroyed in this accident, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

Verdict Amount
Our client was awarded $110,174,972.38 for the life-changing damages he suffered in this tragedy. The verdict includes $60 million for pain and suffering, $40 million for future medical expenses, and roughly $10 million for past medical expenses. This is believed to be the largest non-medical malpractice jury verdict in the history of New York.

Handling Attorneys
This case was handled by Partners Scott Occhiogrosso, Esq. and Daniel P. O’Toole, Esq.

In the Media:
This record-breaking case was featured in a variety of media outlets, including:

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