Peat v. Fordham Hill Owners Corp., 110 A.D.3d 643 (N.Y. App. Div., 2013)

Christopher Peat was working on refinishing a floor in the Fordham Hill apartment complex. While working with the highly flammable lacquer, the pilot light on the kitchen stove ignited the fumes and lacquer, surrounding Peat in flames. As a result, he suffered second and third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body.

After a trial, the jury found that the negligence of Fordham Hill Owners Corporation was a proximate cause of the accident, based on their responsibility to make sure the gas was shut off prior to the refinishing work. Co-defendant Fordham Hill Leasing Corporation was also found to be negligent, but their negligence was not determined to be a proximate cause of the accident. The jury attributed the Owners Corp. to be 100% liable, and awarded Peat $18,681,323.19 in damages.

The Owners Corp appealed the case. The Appellate Division found that the jury’s findings were consistent with the evidence presented, the plaintiff presented a medical expert to submit future medical needs, and the damages did not materially deviate from what would be reasonable. The trial court’s ruling was upheld.

Lei vs. City University of New York, 33 A.D.3d 467 (N.Y. App. Div., 2006)

Man-Kit Lei was a college student at the City University of New York when he was severely burned while working with an oxyacetylene torch in the metal lab. Lei was using the torch on a sculpture he was creating when sparks jumped to his shirt. He was engulfed in flames, and taken to the hospital. Lei was burned across his head, trunk, neck, and upper limbs, amounting to 22% of his body surface. He also suffered second and third-degree burns on his hands.

A trial court found in favor of Lei, attributing the City University 80% responsible for the Lei’s injuries. He was awarded $2.5 million for past pain and suffering, $2.5 million for continuing pain and suffering, and $850,920 for future lost wages. The City University appealed the decision.

The defendant argued that by having fire extinguishers and leather aprons in the lab, it satisfied the duty owed to Lei. However, experts at trial established that the university deviated from safe practices by allowing an undergraduate student to weld alone, without proper outerwear. They also did not issue any guidelines for students working with dangerous equipment, and did not require the use of leather aprons when working with welding equipment.

Lei had to go through seven operations and a number of painful treatments, physical therapy, and was left with significant scarring. His pain, itching, and continued sensitivity to heat, cold, and humidity, as well as psychological problems were found to justify the damages assessed by the jury. The Appellate Division court upheld the damages for pain and suffering, but did not find the future wages estimate to be reliable, and vacated the future lost wages award, upholding the $5 million in pain and suffering.

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