Summary of Bartolone v. Jeckovich, S. Ct. N. Y, 1984
Damages–Inadequate and Excessive Damages–Aggravation of Preexisting Illness
Relevant Facts: Pl was involved in a four-car chain reaction collision in Niagara Falls for which defendants were found liable. Pl sustained relatively minor injuries consisting of whiplash and cervical and lower back strain for which he was treated with muscle relaxants and physical therapy but was not hospitalized. Since the accident, pl has been in a degenerative psychotic condition in which he is withdrawn, hostile, delusional, hears voices and sees shadows, refuses to cut his hair, shave or bathe and no longer participates in any of his former interests. Io the words of his treating psychiatrist, he is “a life lost”. Subsequently, however, he suffered an acute psychotic breakdown from which he has not recovered.
Legal Issue(s): Whether the jury could conclude that plaintiff’s total mental breakdown could be attributed to a minor accident?
Court’s Holding: Yes
Procedure: The jury returned a verdict of $500,000 in pl’s favor. The court granted dfs’ motion to set aside the verdict and ordered a new trial unless pl would stipulate to a reduced verdict of $30,000. Pl refused and took this appeal. The order should be reversed and the verdict reinstated.
Law or Rule(s): A defendant must take a plaintiff as he finds him and hence may be held liable in damages for aggravation of a preexisting illness.
Court Rationale: plaintiff, although apparently suffering from a quiescent psychotic illness, had been able to function in a relatively normal manner until the accident, which aggravated his schizophrenic condition leaving him totally and permanently disabled; a defendant must take a plaintiff as he finds him and, therefore, may be held liable in damages for aggravation of a preexisting illness; moreover, plaintiff should not be denied recovery because his condition might have occurred even without the accident.
Plaintiff’s Argument: The theory on which pls case was tried was that the accident aggravated a preexisting paranoid schizophrenic condition which has totally and permanently disabled him.
Defendant’s Argument: The pl’s pre-existing condition was the cause of the injury.