Thursday, June 23, 2011

Majority of Appellate Panel Holds That Immigration Status of Resident Alien is Immaterial to Future Medical Expenses

In Angamarca v. New York City Partnership Hous. Dev. Fund, Inc., the 34 year-old plaintiff was injured in a two-story fall through an improperly covered opening. He suffered severe injuries, including a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures of the vertebrae. As relevant here, the jury awarded plaintiff $100,000 for past pain and suffering, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering and $16,721,684 for future medical expenses.

On appeal from the judgment entered after trial, defendant argued that it was improperly precluded by the trial court from raising the fact that plaintiff was an undocumented alien who had expressed a desire to return to his native country, and the plaintiff cross-appealed for addittur of his pain and suffering awards.

In a 3-2 decision, the majority of the First Department held that the trial court had properly precluded the defendant from raising the issue of plaintiff’s immigration status. The majority found that the Court of Appeals’ decision in Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC (6 NY3d 338 [2006]), was controlling. According to the majority, the Balbuena-Court held that, when a plaintiff has suffered such severe injuries that he is unable to work, mitigation of damages is no longer an issue and therefore the immigration status of the plaintiff is irrelevant.

The majority also increased the plaintiff’s past and future pain and suffering awards to $1,500,000 and $3,500,000, respectively.

The two dissenting justices disagreed with the majority, stating that Balbuena had no application to the present appeal. The dissent found that Balbuena does not limit consideration of plaintiff’s immigration status in regard to any item of damages, noting that the prevailing appellate authority is to permit the jury to consider the plaintiff’s immigration status (Coque v. Wildflower Estates Devs. Inc., 58 AD3d 44 [2nd Dept. 2008]).

The dissent further observed that the purpose of “compensatory damages” is to reimburse the injured party for the actual costs incurred as the result of his injuries, “not to bestow a windfall.” Here, since plaintiff testified that he had planned to stay in the United States for only a short period of time to earn $20,000 to return to his country:

"it is not prejudicial to require that. . . plaintiff present the jury with an accurate portrayal of the likely cost of his future medical treatment, wherever it is to be rendered. To the contrary, it is unfair to prevent. . . defendant from putting. . . plaintiff to his proof by precluding the defense from presenting facts material to the accurate assessment of damages."

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