Justice for Ferry Crash Victim Based on Race?
By Gerri Elder
A federal jury has recommended that a passenger who was severely injured and left a quadriplegic in a 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash receive a nearly $23 million settlement. However, lawyers for the city say that the verdict is excessive and they hope that the judge will reduce it.
James McMillan Jr., 44, was a passenger on the Andrew J. Barberi on October 15, 2003 when it crashed. McMillan's personal injury case was the first to go to trial over the accident, although other personal injury claims are currently awaiting trial, according to a report by Newsweek.
The jury in the case, a special advisory panel, spent five hours deliberating over what award would be appropriate for McMillan's past and future medical needs, pain and suffering and other expenses.
McMillan is an African-American man. The judge in the case, Jack B. Weinstein, had to make a tough decision as to whether or not the law should allow race to play a major role in the calculation of life expectancy. The city, in an attempt to limit the award McMillan will receive, introduced race as a factor in determining what McMillan's life span would be.
John Hession, a personal injury lawyer who represents other ferry crash victims, told Newsday reporters that race is often a factor brought up in personal injury cases. Although it seems incredibly outrageous, biased and simply wrong, longevity tables used by the courts show that white men have a longer life expectancy than black men and this can significantly impact awards in personal injury cases.
For lawyers representing the defendants in personal injury cases, the disparity in life expectancies equals dollar signs. Therefore, no matter how distasteful or repugnant bringing a victim's race into play may be, it is done because a defense lawyer's job is to attempt to save his or her client money.
Longevity tables are subjective, but typically include such information as age, location, habits such as smoking, and sometimes race and gender.
Testimony was introduced in McMillan's case - by the defense, of course - to show that white men with spinal cord injuries have a greater life expectancy than black men with similar injuries.
In calculating the award for McMillan, the jury had to attempt to compute his life expectancy. The jury foreman said that while the jury paid some attention to the statistics about the differences between the life expectancy of white and black men, the data was not a major concern.
The jurors came to the conclusion that McMillan would need $10.3 million in medical care for the nearly 25 years that he is expected to live. He was awarded $7.36 million for his future pain and suffering and $4.6 million for his pain and suffering since the accident. The jury decided that McMillan was also owed $685,000 in past medical expenses.
It is still a mystery how much of the nearly $23 million that the jury recommended that McMillan should receive. Weinstein will take the advisory verdict and make a decision as to how much should be awarded in the case. He may lower the final amount.
Lawyers for both sides were instructed to file legal papers so that Weinstein could make his decision.