Felipe Feliz v. Morris Avenue Associates
Type of Injury
SEVERE BURNS TO THE BODY, THROAT, AND LUNGS
self-employed automobile mechanic
New York, NY
1,504,000, reduced to $1,128,000 for 25% comparative negligence of Pltf.
XI/7-2 FIRE TENANT INJURY LOCKED WINDOW GATE AND LACK OF SMOKE DETECTORS SEVERE BURNS TO THE BODY, THROAT, AND LUNGS
Felipe Feliz v. Morris Avenue Associates, a limited partnership 22980/89 14-day trial Verdict 5/19/93 Judge Diane A. Lebedeff, New York Supreme
VERDICT: $1,504,000, reduced to $1,128,000 for 25% comparative negligence of Pltf. Breakdown: $400,000 for past pain and suffering; $500, 000 for future pain and suffering; $39,000 for past lost earnings; $312, 000 for future lost earnings; $103,000 for past medical expenses; $150,000 for future medical expenses. A post-trial motion is pending. This case will be reproduced in its entirety, along with the post-trial decision, when it is rendered. Jury: 4 male, 2 female.
Pltf. Atty: Alan H. Figman of Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald, Yonkers
Deft. Atty: Steven Z. Rosenzweig of Diamond, Rutman, Costello & Silberglitt, Manhattan
Facts: The incident occurred on 2/5/89 at 1:40 AM at 1711 Morris Ave. in the Bronx. Pltf., a 30-year-old self-employed automobile mechanic, testified that he placed a pot of food on a low flame on his stove and went into his bedroom while the food cooked. He claimed that the next thing he knew, the apartment had filled with smoke and he ran into the kitchen where he saw that the top of the stove was enveloped in flames. Pltf. testified that after five or six attempts to put out the fire with a 5-gallon bucket of water he was overcome by smoke. Pltf. claimed that he had also tried to call for help from the living room window, which was the only window in his apartment that could be opened.
Pltf. had sublet the apartment from the tenant of record without the landlord’s approval. Evidence indicated that in July 1987, Deft. was cited by the New York City Housing Preservation & Development Code Enforcement for failing to provide a smoke detector in the unit and for allowing an illegal, locked window gate in the kitchen over the fire escape window. These violations were never certified as corrected.
Deft. testified that smoke detectors were installed in the apartment when the tenant moved in and were reinstalled twice after it was cited for violations. The tenant of record testified that she had two smoke detectors and that the window gate in the kitchen was not kept locked. Two firemen testified for Pltf. that there were no smoke detectors in the apartment and that the gate was locked at the time of the fire.
Deft. contended that Pltf. was intoxicated at the time, and produced evidence that his blood alcohol level was .78 when he arrived at the hospital at 2:57 AM. Pltf.’s physician contended that this was an insignificant amount. He testified that immediately after a person is severely burned, his body becomes hypometabolic and little metabolism of alcohol would occur, resulting in a higher than normal reading.
Injuries: second- and third-degree burns over 46% of the body; burns to the throat cartilage requiring placement of a permanent tracheotomy tube; chemical burns of the lungs resulting in reduced pulmonary capacity; scars to the stomach and back. Pltf. claimed that he is unable to climb one flight of stairs without becoming short of breath. He required six skin graft procedures. His experts testified that Pltf. will require two more in the future. He will also require future scar release surgery. Pltf. claimed that he can no longer work as an automobile mechanic and, because he cannot speak English and has minimal education, he is unemployable in any other field. Demonstrative evidence: photos; FDNY reports; medical records; economic charts; tenant file; HPD violations. Pltf. Experts: John O’Rourke, fire protection, former chief, N.Y.C. Fire Dept, Seaford; Dr. Cleon Goodwin, burns and trauma specialist, director of New York Hospital Burn Unit; Seymour Barcun, Ph.D., economist, Edison, New Jersey; Dr. Edmond Provder, vocational rehabilitation, Manhattan. Deft. Experts: Dr. Lawrence Kaplan, neuropsychiatrist, Manhattan; Morris Zedeck, Ph.D., pharmacologist and toxicologist, Manhattan.