By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
The city is asking an appeals court to consider the precedent that will be set if it rules in favor of a record high $45-million personal-injury payout.
As reported by the NY Post, the city’s Law Department, the New York City Housing Authority, and the New York City Transit Authority teamed up to request judges from Manhattan’s Appellate Division to reconsider the large legal settlement in the case of Marion Hedges. In 2011, Hedges,55, suffered severe brain damage after teens threw a shopping cart from a 79-foot-high landing outside a Target store at the East River Plaza mall in East Harlem. In 2018, after years of legal proceedings, Hedges won the record $45- million payout. The trial court judge then slashed the amount in half, but the amount is still in question as she continues to fight insurance companies for the mall and its security firm for payment.
Though no public entity was involved in the Hedges’s case or the potential payout, the city of New York is concerned about the dangerous precedent that would be set by such a hefty payment. “The court’s vigilance is needed now more than ever,” Devin Slack, assistant corporation counsel for Mayor de Blasio’s Law Department, wrote to the appeals court judges. “Raising the ceiling for pain and suffering awards would make a bad situation worse, to the detriment of the city’s residents,” Slack added in a brief.
The city was no doubt motivated to pen the letter by its current fiscal problems due to the COVID-19 shutdown, in which the city lost $9 billion in revenue. Also notable is that the MTA’s own personal injury payouts have jumped to $150 million in 2019, up from $43 million in 2007. “If the court upholds these outsized jury awards, and personal injury trial lawyers are allowed to continue these tactics, it will be open season on already cash-strapped city agencies,” said Tom Stebbins, director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. “Like sharks to a shipwreck, every lawyer in town will smell blood in the water while taxpayer-funded city and MTA budgets are drowning,” Stebbins told The Post. The appeals panel of judges is expected to make their decision by early 2021.
Hedges’ attorney, Thomas Moore, responded by telling The Post: “Why should the city and the MTA by pointing out their unquestionably difficult circumstances as a result of COVID deprive this one plaintiff of her justice and her day in court after seven years? That’s my response to this”.