$13 Million Personal Injury Lawsuit 13 Years Coming

By: Gerri L. Elder

On January 13, 1995, Merryl Kihl was riding in the front passenger seat of Karl O. Pfeffer's car while he was driving in the state of New York. As Pfeffer was driving, the car hydroplaned on a dangerous stretch of road and struck a tree. Kihl survived the car accident but sustained several serious injuries, including a fractured neck.

Kihl filed a personal injury lawsuit against Pfeffer and Nassau County which now after 13 years of litigation, has finally been settled. In a jury trial she won a $13 million settlement against Pfeffer and Nassau County for her injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages and medical care. The jury found Pfeffer 13 percent at fault for her injuries and Nassau County to be 87 percent at fault for her injuries.

The trial judge refused to reduce the award by any substantial amount, so Nassau County appealed the verdict. The appellate court unanimously affirmed the jury's verdict and award, and the Nassau County Legislature has now unanimously approved the award and voted a bond issue to pay the settlement to Kihl.

Kihl will be paid:

  • $1,200,000 for future pain and suffering intended to compensate her for 46 years of future life expectancy,
  • $1,020,569 for future medical expenses other than medication over 46 years,
  • $7,416,045 for future medication expenses over 46 years,
  • $1,100,000 for future lost earnings over 18.25 years,
  • $374,436 for future housekeeping services over 46 years, and
  • $673,612 for a future patient care assistant over 15 years commencing at age 65.

Nassau County had several problems when defending themselves against Kihl's personal injury lawsuit. Lawyers for Nassau County had little other legal options to pursue after the appellate court reached a unanimous decision against the county.

The site where the accident happened is known to be dangerous. In fact, Kihl was not the first person, or the last, to be injured on that particular stretch of road. In other cases, court decisions have decided that the part of Quaker Meeting House Road where the accident happened is unsafe. In Kihl's case, lawyers for Nassau County could not argue that the road is safe after a court had made the finding that it is not.

Another obstacle for defense lawyers in Kihl's case was that jurors could visibly see the protrusion in her stomach where a morphine pump had been implanted. The jury was also told that Kihl will likely have to endure nine or 10 more major surgeries in her lifetime to periodically replace the pump. Kihl's doctors testified that she will have to manage severe pain for the remainder of her life. She is now 37 years old.

During the case, Nassau County hired a private investigator to follow Kihl, in order to try to discount the severity of her injuries and pain. The investigator followed Kihl for 10 days and observed her for 2,320 minutes. Of that time, Kihl was physically active for 158 minutes. The findings of the investigator supported evidence provided by Kihl's injury lawyer and doctors, and made it impossible for the defense team to argue that the medical reports about the severity of Kihl's injuries were inaccurate.

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