This case combined two appeals, both dealing with the interpretation of the tort reform package, N.Y. CPLR Art. 50-A and N.Y. CPLR Art. 50-B. As part of the reform, the Legislature enacted structured judgment statutes requiring that the portion of personal injury awards allocated to future losses, for awards in excess of $250,000, should be made in periodic payments over time. The package directs that an initial lump sum payment be made which consists of damages awarded for past injuries, attorney's fees and the first $250,000 of future damages. Defendant then purchases an annuity contract that provides for the compensation for future losses in annual installments. Both cases involve divergent interpretations by the plaintiff and the defendant of the amount to be paid according to the statutory scheme.
The Bryant Case
Bryant, as administrator of the estate of Dorothy Roberts, brought a medical malpractice and wrongful death action against the defendant in connection with the defendant's treatment of Roberts and her subsequent death after undergoing a caesarian section. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff, totaling $21,150,000. The supreme court set aside the verdict as excessive; then, after remitting the award to $3,968,333, Plaintiff and Defendant proposed different judgments based on varying interpretations of the statutory scheme. Defendant argued that the Social Security child survivor benefit should offset the damages awarded. The supreme court agreed with the plaintiff that there should be no offset for monthly Social Security survivor benefits. The Appellate Division affirmed, yet required a further reduction of the award before an amended judgment was entered.
The Depradine Case
Depradine sustained severe and permanent brain damage as a result of the Defendant's negligence during his birth. A jury awarded him a total of $47,418,603. The supreme court granted a motion for a new trial based upon the excessiveness of the award, unless Plaintiff agreed to a reduction. After remitting the award to $9,109,692, Plaintiff and Defendant proposed different judgments based on their interpretations of the tort reform package. Defendant urged the court to base the annuity contract for future damages on the present value of the damages and to exclude the 4% additur from the damages calculation. The supreme court upheld the Plaintiff's calculations in which the annual payments were based on the future value for the damages, and included the 4% additur in the judgment. The Appellate Division affirmed, citing its decision in Bryant.
1. Whether future damages awards made by annual payments pursuant to the tort reform package are properly calculated according to future value.
2. Whether the statutory 4% additur under the tort reform package should be included in the damage award prior to determining attorney's fees.
3. Whether Social Security survivor benefits should offset a plaintiff's damages awards received pursuant to the tort reform package.
1. Yes. Damage awards pursuant to the tort reform package are properly calculated according to the future value of the award, and not the present value of future damages. The Legislature intended that plaintiffs be compensated for the full amount of their damages; therefore, it is the undiscounted future value of the award that is payable over time.
2. Yes. The 4% additur should be included in the damage award before attorney's fees are calculated.
3. Yes. Collateral sources of compensation, such as Social Security survivor benefits may be used to reduce a judgment for the plaintiff if there is a direct correspondence between the item of loss and the type of collateral reimbursement. Social Security benefits can be used to offset future losses provided that with "reasonable certainty" they will indemnify the plaintiff.
Cases Cited by the Court
Other Sources Cited by the Court