In the legal world, old Latin phrases are used regularly. In truth, most of the time there is no real reason to continue to use these phrases. Generally, lawyers and judges use them to try to sound smart when they have nothing better to say. However, on rare occasions we can use these phrases to point to the truly extraordinary. This is one of those times. I present to you: Fiat jūstitia ruat cælum, more commonly translated as "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."
How then, in a world of modern English could this phrase be useful? To find that answer we must ask an injured victim who recently won at the Appellate Court. You see, this motorist was traveling in Queens when a piece of metal literally fell from the sky, impaling his windshield and causing severe and permanent injuries. Now that pieces of metal were falling from the heavens, it was time for justice to be done.
The defendant in the case was the New York City Transit Authority. After investigation, it was determined that the metal fell from elevated subway tracks. The Transit Authority did not have much of a defense and therefore admitted liability. To “admit liability” means to agree the accident was your fault. This does not, however, mean that they agreed to compensate the injured victim adequately for the suffering he sustained. That meant the case had to go to trial.
In Queens County, cases are split into two parts. The first part is liability, or who is at fault for the accident. The second part is damages. In the second part, the injured victim gets to explain his injuries to the jury, and it decides how much he should be awarded. In this case, the victim sustained a complex laceration to the right forearm deep enough to significantly aggravate his tissue and required a skin graft with the skin taken from his right thigh. The surgery left him with permanent scarring in his right forearm and thigh. It also left him with ongoing pain and weakness in his wrist, as well as difficulty moving the wrist in all directions. Furthermore, as a result of the metal object hurling through the sky with velocity akin to Thor’s Hammer, he was confined to the hospital in excruciating pain for over two weeks.
Determined to get back his normal life, the injured victim persevered through physical therapy and was able to return to work as an auto mechanic approximately two months after the accident. Despite returning to work, he was by no means healed. He still needed help lifting objects and had significant difficulty working with his fingers in small or tight areas. At his trial, he testified about these difficulties as well as the trouble he had at home with cooking, cleaning and around-the-house activities in general.
After listening to his testimony and the testimony of his doctors, the jury awarded him $800,000 in past pain and suffering and $1,000,000 in future pain and suffering. In addition, he was awarded medical expenses in the amount of $48,607.46 for a grand total of $1,848,607.46.
One would think that when the Transit Authority’s negligence hurt somebody to this degree, they would pay the victim in hopes that he could continue on with his life. To the contrary, the Transit Authority appealed. In their appeal they argued a few things. First, that the jury should not have seen the metal piece that hit the victim and second that the award was too high.
The first argument, that the jury should not see the metal which hit the victim is a classic defense/insurance company tactic. Often, they will admit fault when they have acted horrendously in hopes that a judge will not let the jury see evidence of the accident. Let it be known, the Transit Authority and insurance do not “accept responsibility” because it is the right thing to do, rather they try to manipulate the system by suppressing relevant evidence. Luckily, they had no such luck here.
The second argument was even more dastardly than the first. They claimed the award was excessive. While nearly 2,000,000 is certainly a lot of money, there can be no doubt that in this circumstance, where a metal object rained from the sky and viciously seared through the victim’s flesh, that the award was appropriate. Once again, the Appellate Court agreed.
Finally, it is worth noting that our system actually encourages municipalities to appeal otherwise reasonable awards. How? Well private people and companies have to pay 9 percent interest, compounded yearly if they lose an appeal. Municipalities like the Transit Authority only have to pay 3%. Yet another way the rules are stacked against the little guy. The moral of the story? When justice needs to be done, make sure you have a lawyer ready to bring down the heavens.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling 24/7 at 212-514-5100, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting our law firm in Lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.