The city is asking an appeals court to lower the $ 45 million personal injury payment for an Upper West Side philanthropist – even though it was not part of the lawsuit – because it fears the salary may be sets a precedent that could force cash-strapped city agencies and authorities further into the red.
City Legal Department, New York City Housing Authority and New York City Transit Authority Call on Manhattan Appeal Division Justices to Reduce $ 45 Million Awarded to Marion Hedges, Who Suffered Serious Brain Injury following the October 2011 incident on the East River. Plaza Mall in East Harlem when teens threw a shopping cart from a 79-foot-high landing outside a Target store.
Hedges, 55, won the record-breaking prize in 2018. The trial court judge cut the amount in half, but the injured mother-of-two is still fighting insurance companies for the mall and her company security for payment.
No public entity is a party to the case, but the city’s legal minds fear the eight-figure price will set a dangerous precedent, pushing up future legal costs in lawsuits against the city and the authority transportation, government lawyers say in new court documents.
“The vigilance of the court is more than ever necessary,” writes Devin Slack, deputy legal adviser in the legal department of the mayor of Blasio, to a panel of judges of the court of appeal.
“State and local governments across the country are facing unprecedented budget crises and are making deep cuts to public services, education and health care,” he said in a recent memory.
The COVID-19 shutdown deprived the city of at least $ 9 billion in revenue.
“Why should the city and the MTA, in pointing out their undoubtedly difficult circumstances following COVID, deprive this complainant of her justice and her day in court after seven years?” That’s my answer to that, ”Hedges attorney Thomas Moore told The Post.
“The MTA is in the midst of a one-time 100-year fiscal tsunami that has destroyed 40% of our revenue,” writes MTA lawyer Lawrence Heisler, noting that it faces a $ 16 billion deficit until 2024 with ridership at less than 30% of pre-coronavirus levels.
“This new reality demands that courts condemn ‘anchor’, the practice of lawyers asking the jury to return an unduly high reward. This practice works, prompting juries to award very different awards than reasonable compensation, ”Heisler says.
The MTA’s personal injury benefits fell from just $ 43 million in 2007 to $ 150 million in 2019.
“Many individual payments are the direct result of anchor tactics that skew the deliberations of lay jurors,” Heisler writes.
The city and NYCHA legal costs are also heavy. The Big Apple faces about 17,000 new personal injury cases each year, resulting in an average compensation of $ 100,000 each. This amount has quadrupled over the past seven years. NYCHA sets aside tens of millions of dollars each year to fend off lawsuits.
“Raising the ceiling for compensation for pain and suffering would worsen a bad situation, to the detriment of the inhabitants of the city”, adds the lawyer for the administration of Blasio Slack in the brief.
The appeal board is expected to rule on the matter by early next year.
“If the court upholds these outsized jury prices and personal injury lawyers are allowed to pursue these tactics, it will be the open season for already cash-strapped city agencies,” said Tom Stebbins, director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.
“Like sharks in a shipwreck, every lawyer in the city will smell blood in the water as the city and taxpayer-funded MTA budgets drown,” Stebbins told The Post.