Feldman, Kleidman, Coffey & Sappe LLP (FKC&S) recently settled a long-standing lawsuit against the State of New York. The one-car crash occurred on a New York State (NYS) highway and resulted in the death of a young mother who left behind two young children and her husband. FKC&S Partner Richard J. Coffey tried both the liability and damages trials, and attorney Marsha S. Weiss prepared the posttrial briefs. The Court of Claims found that NYS was responsible for hazardous roadway conditions. While the verdicts were on appeal, Jeff Feldman negotiated an $11.3 million-dollar settlement. The settlement, known as a structured settlement, will be disbursed to the children over a long-term period.
Anatomy of an $11.3 Million Settlement
While the summary above provides a snapshot of the case, it does not illustrate the time, legal expertise, compassion, and tenacity that were required to prevail. This case study helps demonstrate the enormous group effort that was required by our team of lawyers, investigators, and experts to achieve such a significant judgement.
The driver of an automobile traveling on a NYS highway in February lost control of her car when she rounded a sharp ice-covered curve in the road in the early morning hours. The car careened off the highway and crashed, resulting in the death of a young mother who was a passenger in the car.
Critical First Steps
The victim’s husband sought expert legal advice right away. He contacted our office on a Friday evening, and we were there to take his call. Because of his quick contact, we immediately dispatched an investigator and conducted a thorough on-site investigation while conditions were still similar to the conditions existing at the time of the crash. We were also able to take pictures of the scene and to document weather conditions before they changed. In addition, the prompt investigation enabled us to locate and interview many witnesses while the details of the event were still fresh in their minds. FKC&S is committed to taking swift action in the early stage of every case.
After meeting with our client, our investigative team went to work. We spoke with state troopers, a tow truck driver, neighbors, a police investigator, a driver who was involved in a previous accident at the same location, the Dutchess County Traffic Safety Board, and others. We learned that a call had been made earlier that evening by a local fire chief, who also happened to be a Department of Transportation (DOT) employee, reporting the icy road condition and requesting the DOT send a truck to sand it. We also learned that a similar accident had occurred just a few hours earlier on the same icy curve. Most important, we were able to establish that because of a slow response from the NYS DOT, the sanding truck did not arrive until after the crash that took the life of the young mother. It is this type of relentless investigative work that allows the FKC&S team to peel back, layer by layer, every fact in a case.
The driver of the automobile in which the victim was riding pled guilty to Driving While Ability Impaired, which created the enormous challenge of proving that the state’s negligence in failing to remedy the icy condition caused the death as opposed to the impairment of the driver. As a team, we dug deep beneath the surface to uncover the facts necessary to overcome what could have been an insurmountable challenge.
FKC&S Partner Richard J. Coffey led the legal proceedings. During the liability portion of the trial, Richard used key expert witnesses to prove the case, including a highway design expert and an accident reconstruction expert who discussed specific technical issues and to prove that the icy road condition was the cause of the crash. These highly qualified experts, together with many fact witnesses, played significant roles in proving our case to the judge.
Richard argued that the state failed to address the ongoing water flow and ice-related issues caused by the improper installation of a culvert pipe. He demonstrated that the state was or should have been aware of this reoccurring condition based on testimony obtained from NYSDOT workers, neighbors, and other users of the road, and did not take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Richard then proved that the driver in the previous accident, who had no alcohol or other substances in their system and was traveling at a similar rate of speed, had had the same problem negotiating the icy curve. This proved that the icing and not the alleged impairment caused the fatal crash.
Based on the proof, the Court of Claims judge agreed that the state was liable for the crash and resulting death. Richard then presented his case in the damages trial, establishing damages in several critical areas, including lost earnings capacity, loss of household services, and loss of parental guidance and support. Determining damages requires a complicated series of economic calculations that consider projected lost earnings, actuary analyses, rates of inflation, and a myriad of other factors. This requires a high degree of experience and knowledge not found in many personal injury law firms.
Marsha Weiss, an FKC&S appellate attorney, prepared the briefs supporting the facts and testimony presented in both the liability and damages trials. These highly detailed documents served to reinforce the critical facts that were presented during both trials. Many personal injury law firms do not have an appellate attorney on staff.
The Court of Claims judge found that NYS was responsible for the hazardous roadway conditions, and the negligence of the state caused this tragic death. The judge then awarded the family $7.3 million. While the verdicts were on appeal, FKC&S Partner Jeff Feldman negotiated an $11.3 million settlement. The $7.3 million award included 9 percent interest from the time of death, which Jeff was able to leverage in negotiations for a settlement far higher than the original amount awarded by the judge.
Structuring the Settlement
While obtaining an appropriate settlement is the primary goal for every personal injury case, the FKC&S team went well beyond that in their efforts. FKC&S has the experience and expertise required to arrange for the proper creation of a structured settlement. With this type of sophisticated settlement, the $11.3 million settlement will be distributed over time, providing total guaranteed payments of approximately $17.5 million. The settlement will ensure that money is available to the children for college and graduate school and will then distribute money in installments over the course of the children’s lives. Money will be placed in a series of annuities backed by highly rated insurance companies, which will guarantee payments well into the future. Although it cannot bring back the children’s mother, this type of thoughtful settlement helps ensure that the children will have economic security for the rest of their lives.
Orchestrating the complex issues surrounding a sophisticated personal injury case is no small feat. The team at Feldman, Kleidman, Coffey & Sappe, with its over thirty-year track record, is one of the few law firms in the Hudson Valley with the resources and experience necessary to ensure that you receive the best possible result. More than that, our team has the passion and compassion you need to endure what is often a long and stressful journey. If you have been injured in an accident, call us for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.