A Manhattan Supreme Court jury has awarded an $85 million verdict to a former New York Times “Vows” columnist who was hit and severely injured by a double-decker tour bus in 2015.
According to a verdict sheet from the trial, which was held before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe, the jurors on Tuesday awarded $45 million to the injured writer, Devan Sipher, for his past pain and suffering and $40 million for future pain and suffering.
But after the six-person jury delivered the verdict against Gray Line New York Tours bus company and other defendants, the lawyers for each side quickly settled for a lower amount that has not been disclosed, according to Howard Hershenhorn, the attorney for Sipher.
In a phone interview Thursday, Hershenhorn said that he was “100 percent sure” that the $85 million verdict would have been significantly reduced under remittitur principles by either the trial judge or the Appellate Division, First Department, and that therefore the settlement made sense.
“There’s been no precedent for a verdict that large” in an auto injury case, Hershenhorn said, “and certainly no precedent to sustain such a verdict once reviewed, and so we resolved the case for what we believe is the most money anyone could get for those injuries.”
Hershenhorn would not disclose information about the settlement amount.
Donald Derrico, a lawyer for the defendants in the suit—which included Gray Line New York Tours Inc., Twin America LLC and Calvin Wright, the bus driver involved—did not return a call seeking comment.
The jury rendered the damages verdict after about three hours of deliberations, Hershenhorn said, and he and his team were able to speak with five of the six jurors posttrial, he said.
Based on the juror interviews, Hershenhorn said that a key to getting a large and fast-delivered verdict had been putting on a cast of medical experts—eight in all—who had impressed the jurors with their knowledge of Sipher’s numerous injuries and long-lasting medical problems.
“The jurors were extremely impressed by the quality of the expert testimony,” Hershenhorn said. “I think we had great experts who really understood the medicine and the specific facts in this case—the medicine involved in these injuries—and had reviewed the medical records.”
Hershenhorn said that both sides of the case had stipulated, before the verdict, to $2.5 million as the amount for Sipher’s economic losses, including lost wages and future medical expenses.
During the accident, which happened in Manhattan’s West Village in July 2015, Sipher, now 54, had his left leg and foot partially crushed underneath the bus, and he was dragged along as well, Hershenhorn said.
He has since had 10 surgeries on his leg and foot, and one surgery on his right shoulder, the lawyer said.
His specific injuries included artery and vein injuries and neurological injuries, and Sipher—who had been a regular runner—is now required to wear a brace on his left foot for the rest of his life, Hershenhorn said.
In addition, he is on painkiller medication for the foreseeable future, he added.
Hershenhorn, a partner at personal injury firm Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf said that the two sides had litigated for years over liability—through discovery and depositions—after the lawsuit was filed in 2015.
He said that the defense, then led by a law firm different than Derrico’s—which only took over the case this year—put forward an argument that the accident was Sipher’s fault for walking into the bus. But eventually, the plaintiff’s side produced a video from city street cameras that showed Sipher was hit while legally walking in a crosswalk, Hershenhorn said, adding that the bus company driver, Wright, was also fired at some point.
Sipher, who has also published two novels, was gratified by the verdict, Hershenhorn said.
“Since the accident, he’s become an advocate for street safety, bicyclist and pedestrian safety in New York,” the attorney said. “His reaction [to the verdict] was that he is hoping that the enormity of the verdict will tell bus company and other transportation companies that they have to do a much better job training their drivers and abiding by the law.”