The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scheindlin, District Judge.
AMENDED OPINION AND ORDER
This negligence action arises out of an automobile accident resulting
in personal injuries to various members of the Estevez family.
Jurisdiction is premised under the Federal Tort Claims Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1346 9(b), 2671-80 ("FTCA"), because the car in which
plaintiffs were riding on October 11, 1996, collided with a United States
postal truck. This case was tried to the court between March 1 and March
22, 1999. The following constitutes the court's findings of fact and
conclusions of law.
1. The liability phase of the trial was heard on March 1 and March 2,
1999. At the conclusion of the evidence, the Court made oral findings of
fact and conclusions of law on the record. See March 1 & 2 Transcript
of Proceedings ("Tr.I") at 237-43. In short, the United States was found
to be negligent, based on the actions of the driver of the postal truck.
As a result, evidence was submitted by plaintiffs and defendant with
respect to damages.
2. The Sixth and Seventh Counts of the complaint, which are the claims
of plaintiffs Zobeyda Estevez and Maximo Rafael Estevez for parental loss
of service, society and opportunities related to plaintiffs Joseph
Rodriguez Estevez and Yaneira Estevez are dismissed. No such claims were
presented administratively nor were administrative remedies exhausted,
prior to the filing of this lawsuit, as required by the FTCA. See
28 U.S.C. § 2675 (a); McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 111,
113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993).
3. On the evening of October 11, 1996, the Estevez vehicle was driven
by Pedro Estevez. Tr. I at 61-62 (Testimony of Pedro Estevez). Pedro is
not a plaintiff. The passengers in his car included his aunt, Carmen, age
46, who was seated in the front passenger seat. Tr. I at 62 (Testimony of
Pedro Estevez). She was wearing a seatbelt. Candida, Pedro's mother, age
56, was seated behind him in the rear seat. Id. She was not wearing a
seatbelt. March 2-22 Transcript of Proceedings ("Tr.II") at 164
(Testimony of Candida Estevez). Next to her was her daughter Zobeyda, age
31, who carried her infant son Joseph on her lap. Tr. I at 62 (Testimony
of Pedro Estevez); Tr. II at 247 (Testimony of Zobeyda Estevez). She wore
a single seatbelt fastened around her and Joseph. Tr. II at 247
(Testimony of Zobeyda Estevez). Next to Zobeyda was her cousin Yaneira,
age 13, who was riding in the rear seat without a seatbelt. Tr. I at 62
(Testimony of Pedro Estevez; Tr. II at 232-33 (Testimony of Yaneira
Estevez). All of the passengers sustained injuries in the crash and were
taken to the emergency room at the Jacobi Medical Center. Plaintiffs
Exhibit ("PX") 8, 21a & b, 32, 35, 41.
4. The Government's liability pursuant to the FTCA is determined under
New York law. 28 U.S.C. § 1346 (b). There is no precise rule for
determining pain and suffering and a trier of fact is bound by a standard
of reasonableness in light of all the evidence. Paley v. Brust,
21 A.D.2d 758, 250 N.Y.S.2d 356, 357 (1st Dep't 1964). Courts may award
"fair and just compensation for any injuries proximately caused by the
negligence of the Government's employees." Goldstein v. United States,
9 F. Supp.2d 175, 188 (E.D.N.Y. 1998). "[P]rior verdicts may guide and
enlighten the court and in a sense, may constrain it." Senko v. Fonda,
53 A.D.2d 638, 384 N.Y.S.2d 849, 851 (2d Dep't 1976) (citations
omitted); see also, Corbin v. Grand Union Co., No. 96 Civ. 4626 (SWK),
1997 WL 739583, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 26, 1997) (examining New York cases
to determine appropriate compensation for past and future pain and
5. "`Each passenger has an independent common-law duty to exercise
reasonable care for his [or her] own safety.'" Enders v. Boggs,
178 Misc.2d 528, 679 N.Y.S.2d 561, 562 (Supt. Ct. Rensselear Co. 1998
(citing cases)). A passenger must exercise reasonable care and mitigate
damages by wearing seatbelts. Diehl v. Ogorewac, 836 F. Supp. 88, 94
(E.D.N.Y. 1993); Roach v. Szatko, 244 A.D.2d 470, 664 N.Y.S.2d 101, 102
(2d Dep't 1997); Curry v. Moser, 89 A.D.2d 1, 454 N.Y.S.2d 311, 316 (2d
Dep't 1982). Similarly, a passenger cannot ride in an unreasonable
position, "[T]o the extent that an occupant to a motor vehicle positions
herself or himself in such manner to permit or even enhance the
possibility of [a] physical impact, an issue arises analogous to the
situation where a seatbelt is not used." Enders, 679 N.Y.S.2d at 563.
6. Any award for future damages must account for the time value of
money. Oliveri v. Delta, 849 F.2d 742, 751 (2d Cir. 1988); Metz v. United
Technologies Corp., 754 F.2d 63, 68 & n. 3 (2d Cir. 1985).
Accordingly, any award for future pain and suffering may be discounted to
present value at an appropriate rate based on the evidence. See Oliveri,
849 F.2d at 751 & n. 8. However, the methods for accounting for time
value of money
vary. Ramirez v. New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., 112 F.3d 38, 41
n. 3, 42 n. 5 (2d Cir. 1997).
7. Section 5041 of the New York Civil Practice Law & Rules
("N.Y.CPLR") governs damage awards in personal injury matters. N.Y. CPLR
§ 5041(b) states that "[t]he court shall enter judgment in lump sum
for past damages, for future damages not in excess of two hundred fifty
thousand dollars, and for any damages, fees or costs payable in lump sum
or otherwise under subdivisions (c) and (d) of this section." N.Y. CPLR
§ 5041(e) provides that when future damages in excess of $250,000
[t]he court shall enter a judgment for the amount of
the present value of an annuity contract that will
provide for the payment of the remaining amounts of
future damages in periodic installments. The present
value of such contract shall be determined in
accordance with generally accepted actuarial practices
by applying the discount rate in effect at the time of
the award to the full amount of the remaining future
damages, as calculated pursuant to this subdivision.
The period of time over which such periodic payments
shall be made and the period of times used to
calculate the present value of the annuity contract
shall be the period of years determined by the trier
of fact in arriving at the itemized verdict;
provided, however, that the period of time over which
such periodic payments shall be made and the period of
time used to calculate the present value for damages
attributable to pain and suffering shall be ten years
of the period of time determined by the trier of
fact, whichever is less.
8. Any award for future loss of earnings "must be discounted to reflect
the fact that, even if there were no inflation, a dollar received today
is worth more than the right to receive a dollar in the future."
Ramirez, 112 F.3d at 41.
9. I find that any award for lost earnings need not be calculated as an
after-tax net amount. I note that in cases applying federal law, the
court (or the jury) must consider the effect of income tax on the
estimated amount of lost wages. See Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v.
Liepelt, 444 U.S. 490, 100 S.Ct. 755, 62 L.Ed.2d 689 (1980) (holding that
it was error to exclude evidence of decedent's future taxes in case
brought under Federal Employers' Liability Act); Fanetti v. Hellenic
Lines Ltd., 678 F.2d 424, 431 (2d Cir. 1982) (extending principle "at
least to all claims for future wages based solely on federal law").
The Federal Tort Claims Act, however, provides that
The United States shall be liable . . . in the same
manner and to the same extent as a private individual
under like circumstances, but shall not be liable for
interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages.
Thus, damages are assessed against the United States according to the law
of the state where the tortious activity took place. New York law is
clear that taxes are not deducted from an award of lost earnings, but
rather that the gross amount of lost wages is to be awarded. See Johnson
v. Manhattan & Bronx Surface Transit Operating Anthority,
71 N.Y.2d 198, 524 N.Y.S.2d 415, 419, 519 N.E.2d 326 (1988) ("without
express statutory direction to the contrary, the damages component of a
plaintiffs award as to lost wages . . . should be based on gross projected
earnings and no deduction or consideration of after-tax net should be
allowed into evidence or charged to the jury"); McKee v. Colt Electronics
Co., Inc., 849 F.2d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 1988) ("it is now abundantly clear
that under New York law the calculation of plaintiffs damages must be
made as if taxes did not exist").
The law in this Circuit is not to the contrary. In O'Connor v. United
States, 269 F.2d S78 (2d Cir. 1959), the Court of Appeals held that taxes
considered when computing lost earning in a case of wrongful death under
the FTCA. One year later, however, the Court limited this holding,
clarifying that the Court in O'Connor had based its decision on the
Oklahoma law of damages. McWeeney v. New York, New Haven and Hartford
Railroad Co., 282 F.2d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1960).*fn1 The instant case, of
course, is governed by New York law, which, as stated above, adheres to a
different rule than Oklahoma.
I note that a substantial number of courts have held that it is
appropriate to deduct taxes from earnings awarded under the FTCA. See,
e.g., Shaw v. United States, 741 F.2d 1202 (9th Cir. 1984); Flannery v.
United States, 718 F.2d 108 (4th Cir. 1983); Harden v. United States,
688 F.2d 1025 (5th Cir. 1982); Battista v. United States, 889 F. Supp. 716
(S.D.N.Y. 1995). I do not, however, find these cases persuasive. Each of
them is based on the FTC. s prohibition on assessing punitive damages
against the Government. Thus, they reason that because a plaintiff would
have been required to pay taxes on the income he would have received in
the absence of the Government's negligence, failing to account for taxes
in a damage award is equivalent to assessing noncompensatory, and thus
punitive, damages against it. With the Supreme Court's holding in Molzof
v. United States, 502 U.S. 301, 112 S.Ct. 711, 116 L.Ed.2d 731 (1992),
however, this reasoning is no longer convincing. In Molzof, the Court
held that the only "punitive damages" barred by the FTCA are those
"legally considered `punitive damages' under traditional common-law
principles, namely damages based on plaintiffs intentional misconduct.
Id. at 312, 112 S.Ct. 711. I agree with those courts that have held that
the failure to deduct taxes does not amount to "punitive damages," as the
Supreme Court has now defined it. See, e.g., Palmer v. United States,
146 F.3d 361, 367 (6th Cir. 1998); Manko v. United States, 830 F.2d 831,
837 (8th Cir. 1987); Ferrarelli v. United States, 90 Civ. 4478, 1992 WL
893461, at *9-11 (E.D.N.Y. September 24, 1992).
Thus, the Government is not entitled to the deduction of taxes from the
lost earnings awarded here.
10. An infant plaintiff may recover for future lost earnings. Even
where the computation of future earnings of an infant plaintiff is
"speculative and fraught with difficulties," the "loss of future earnings
of an infant plaintiff is properly compensable." Kavanaugh v. Nussbaum,
129 A.D.2d 559, 514 N.Y.S.2d 55, 59 (2d Dep't 1987), mod. on other
grounds, 71 N.Y.2d 535, 528 N.Y.S.2d 8, 523 N.E.2d 284 (1988). See also
Altman v. Alpha Obstetrics and Gynecology, 255 A.D.2d 276,
679 N.Y.S.2d 642, 644 (2d Dep't 1998) (upholding award of $3,000,000 to
infant plaintiff for future lost earnings considering that father had a
PhD in education and brother was an honor student at Tufts and assuming
that infant plaintiff would have graduated college); Sullivan v.
Locastro, 178 A.D.2d a23, 577 N.Y.S.2d 631 (2d Dep't 1991); Ledogar III
v. Giordano, 122 A.D.2d 834, 505 N.Y.S.2d 899, 903 (2d Dep't 1986).
11. There is no dispute that Zobeyda sustained four fractured ribs and
a lacerated spleen. Tr. II at 1218 (Government Summation); 956 (Testimony
of Dr. Barron). She remained in the hospital for three days from October
12th through October 14th. Tr. II at 1250 (Defense Summation); PX 41. No
surgery was required. Tr. II at 691 (Testimony of Zobeyda Estevez).
13. I conclude that the total value of her past pain and suffering is
$30,000. See Simone v. Crans, 891 F. Supp. 112, 113 (S.D.N.Y. 1994)
($20,000); Nelson v. State, 105 Misc.2d 107, 431 N.Y.S.2d 955 (Ct.Cl.
1980) ($16,000). When reduced by 50%, Zobeyda is awarded a total ...