On Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1965, claimant Chester Siegel, a 40-year-old dentist, was driving from his home in Roslyn Heights, Nassau County, to his office in The Bronx. He planned to stop en route at his sister's home and deposit there his son, then 9 years old, and his niece, then 7 years old, both of whom were seated in the back seat of his 1963 Falcon station wagon.
Driving westbound at 9:15 a.m. on the Long Island Expressway between Shelter Rock Road and New Hyde Park Road at a speed of about 40 to 45 miles per hour, he testified that traffic was light, the road was wet and snow was on the ground. Suddenly, in an instant, his car was demolished and "an enormous tree was sitting in my lap". He stated that no noise had been heard nor anything unusual seen by him before the accident, which caused the car's steering column to be pushed into his legs, made his chest ache, and inflicted severe pain and bleeding.
According to claimant's testimony, which was supported by photographs as to the car's damage introduced into evidence, the whole car pushed down upon him, his left arm was distorted, his left hand bleeding through his glove, and his face bleeding.
The accident brought the car to a halt. Claimant turned off the motor and the ignition. People came to his aid. The police arrived soon thereafter, as did the wreckers. The tree was picked up and a group of men pushed it off the car and onto the road in front of the car. The car's roof was raised up, and then the claimant was pulled out through the window.
Immediately after the crushing blow, the children were silent for 10 to 15 seconds and then began to cry. Apparently unhurt, they were taken from the station wagon by police. A passing motorist who stopped to offer help took the children back to claimant's Roslyn Heights home.
Claimant, in pain, was taken by ambulance five miles to the North Shore (Manhasset) Hospital where he was admitted to the emergency room. Later, after a doctor had controlled the bleeding of his chest, legs and hand, he was X-rayed and taken to the operating room.
Notice of intention to file a claim was received and filed by the Clerk of the Court of Claims on May 6, 1965 and by the Department of Law on May 7, 1965. The claim itself was timely filed in the two offices on March 17, 1966 and alleges negligence of the State of New York in failing to discover a dangerous and deteriorated condition of the tree which caused his injuries, and in failure to maintain it in such a manner to prevent it from becoming rotted, and in failure to inspect it so as to protect the users of the highway. Damages of $200,000 are sought. The claim has neither been assigned nor tried nor brought before any other court or tribunal for determination.
It asserts that claimant suffered fractures of the second and fourth metacarpal bones of the left hand with injury to the surrounding nerves, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue resulting in a permanent malalignment of the bone and impairment in the mobility and dexterity of the said fingers and hand; damage to the ligaments of the left knee; contusions and abrasions of left and right leg and thigh; lacerations of the palm of the left hand, the left forearm, the left wrist, the head and chest; traumatic shock resulting in headaches, nervousness, sleeplessness and anxiety, and arthritis, though free from its symptoms before the accident.
The use of his hands is an essential part of a dentist's work, as is standing on his feet. According to his testimony and medical proof, claimant's injuries have unfortunately affected both his legs and his left hand.
Claimant was in the hospital for five days, during two of which he stated he was in constant pain. He left the hospital on February 27, although he remained under continued medical care. Two days later the sutures in his left hand were removed and a plaster wrist cast was applied, covering the area from one-half inch below his knuckles almost to his elbow. He wore this cast for four to five weeks.
His chest pains diminished from severe pain to none three weeks after the accident, and the left knee also gradually healed to its present condition.
Claimant returned to work on a limited basis on April 19, and resumed full-time practice on July 9, 1965. In an attempt to retain his practice during the February 22 to April 19 period when he did no work, and during the period of limited work thereafter, he increased the working time of his part-time assistant, he wrote a letter explaining his situation and its cause to about 1,000 patients, and he had the part-time voluntary help of dentist friends.
Claimant testified that the pain in his left hand and the occasional spasms in that hand prevent his doing root canal work and any operation in the back of a patient's mouth, since grasping small objects is not possible with his left hand, nor is he ...