A Manhattan jury awarded more than $45 million to a philanthropist who was nearly killed by a shopping cart that two adolescents pushed from the fourth floor of an outdoor shopping center in East Harlem.
Following a five-week trial, a jury of three men and three women took just three-and-a-half hours to return the verdict, placing 65 percent of the fault for Marion Hedges’ injuries at the feet of a group of five property owners for East River Plaza Shopping Center on E. 117th St., 25 percent of the fault on the security company for the shopping center, and 10 percent on the two youths.
The verdict breaks down to $40.7 million for Hedges for past and future pain and suffering, past and future lost earnings, and future costs to hire an aide. Her son was awarded $2.5 million and her husband was awarded $2 million.
Hedges was at the shopping center on Oct. 30, 2011, to purchase Halloween candy for disadvantaged kids and, while she was standing with her son outside Costco paying for parking, was struck by a metal Target shopping cart that fell nearly 79 feet.
Hedges’ lawyer, Thomas Moore of Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore, said his client went into cardiac arrest and may have died if not for the attention of a medical school resident who happened to step out of a nearby elevator.
Hedges suffered brain damage and neck injuries in the incident and was in a coma for a time.
Jeovanni Rosario and Raymond Hernandez, who were 13 and 12 at the time and who pushed the cart, were convicted as juveniles, according to court papers.
In 2012, Hedges sued Target, Costco and Bob’s Discount Furniture, where the children had been hanging out before they pushed the cart off of a pedestrian bridge. They also sued a group of property owners that includes Tiago Holdings, Forest City Ratner Cos. and Blumenfeld Development Group; ERP Management Co., which managed the property; and Planned Security Service, which provided its services in the common areas of the shopping center.
Target settled with the family in 2016. In January, acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carmen St. George dismissed Bob’s Discount and Costco, and Moore said the family settled with the two retailers for $50,000.
That left the property owners and the security company to proceed to trial. Moore said he presented testimony from Hedges’ neurologist, but said he thinks he got a “long way” by presenting testimony from Hedges’ friend Soo Wan Hwang, who works as an associate general counsel for a trust bank in New York City, and who described what Hedges was like before her brain was damaged by the falling cart.
“It was so powerful that it made the medical testimony pale by comparison,” Moore said. “It was a tour de force for lay testimony.”
Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker partners James Burke and Mathew Ross appeared for the property owners. They did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeffrey Van Etten of Perry, Van Etten, Rozanski & Primavera represented the security company. He noted that, while the jury found his client negligent in the case, they did not find the company to be a substantial factor in Hedges’ injuries. Van Etten said the defendants will appeal St. George’s denial of their post-trial motions to dismiss and will file to set aside the verdict.
“We remain of the opinion that Preferred Security properly performed the services they were hired to do,” Van Etten said.