In a landmark decision, the New York Court of Appeals has decided to apply New York law in determining the damages attributed to Joseph French, J&J Hauling and Verdelli Farms, Inc., the owners and operators of the tractor-trailer from Pennsylvania involved in the catastrophic 2005 Windsor Wildcats bus accident. This is a significant victory, overturning previous rulings that had capped the plaintiffs’ non-economic damages at $326,000 as against both the bus defendants and tractor-trailer defendants in accordance with Canadian law. The Court of Appeals briefing and oral argument was ably handled by Seeger Weiss Counsel TerriAnne Benedetto. Benedetto commented: “It’s been a long appellate road, but we were ultimately able to convince the highest court in New York that Canadian law should not be applied to limit the damages to be paid by the tractor trailer defendants at the expense of these innocent bus passengers, where these defendants were operating their business regularly in New York.”
The choice of law issue was a critical one in the case, largely because the value of the vast majority of the victims’ claims far exceeds the Canadian cap on damages, as explained by Seeger Weiss Partners Marc Albert and Moshe Horn. Albert and Horn tried the first case in connection with the Wildcats bus accident in March, 2010 on behalf of three victims of the accident. After a week-long trial, the Livingston County jury awarded a $2.25 million verdict, all of which was allocated to past and future pain and suffering. Under the prior Court ruling and the application of the Canadian cap, the amounts awarded would have been reduced by the Court to $326,000 per plaintiff. With 17 cases remaining to be tried, many of which involve injuries of a catastrophic nature or death, the Court of Appeals decision is certain to have a profound effect on the future of the litigation, allowing the injured plaintiffs to recover the full measure of their damages rather than an arbitrary and unjust capped amount.
The Wildcats accident occurred when a bus carrying members of a Windsor, Ontario, girls’ hockey team collided with an illegally parked 70 foot tractor-trailer in Geneseo, N.Y., causing multiple fatalities and life changing injuries. Plaintiffs’ counsel maintained that the sleep-deprived bus driver was negligently trained and supervised by defendant bus company Coach Canada. As a result of parties’ stipulation of liability, Coach Canada assumed legal responsibility for 90% of the accident, with the tractor-trailer defendants, including J&J Hauling Inc., taking responsibility for the remaining 10%.