Ruby vs. Budget Rent A Car

The New York State Court of Appeals declined to interfere with one of the highest personal injury awards in New York State history, which was obtained by Kreindler & Kreindler LLP on behalf of a seriously injured client. Two New York state appellate courts approved an award of nearly $20 million, after a jury had awarded more than $24 million. The affirmance of such a high award is significant, because New York courts are activists in reducing high jury awards, based upon a rule which requires they reduce awards which are not "reasonable." Most other states only reduce jury awards which "shock the conscience", which makes it much more difficult to overrule what a jury believes a plaintiff should be awarded. The final result includes an award of $8 million for future pain and suffering, one of the highest amount ever approved by a court on behalf of an injured plaintiff.

This victory was a result of meticulous preparation of the case before trial. Though juries are often swayed by passion or sympathy, verdicts which are the result emotion rather than evidence are easily targeted by higher courts. They key to success in this case was developing facts and evidence so that the jury had a legitimate basis to adequately compensate a terribly
injured plaintiff.

On November 29, 2000, 25-year-old Ethan Ruby was walking in the cross-walk across Delancey Street at Orchard Street on the lower east side of Manhattan, when the driver of a Budget Rent A Car ran a red light and caused a collision which left him paralyzed. Ethan had been a Division I baseball player at the University of Pennsylvania and had moved to New York
City upon graduation in 1997 to form a successful Wall Street trading firm.

Ethan turned to Kreindler & Kreindler LLP and partners Marc Moller and David Cook to assist him in contending with what had suddenly become a very uncertain future. His future medical and care expenses alone will likely exceed $5 million.

All too often, automobiles are under-insured in New York State, causing significant problems for people injured in automobile accidents through no fault of their own. In Ethan Ruby's case, he was an innocent pedestrian lawfully crossing the street with the traffic light in his favor.

Relying on New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388, which created vicarious liability in vehicle owners for the negligence of drivers, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP filed suit against Budget Rent A Car, arguing that Budget was liable for the negligence of the driver to whom it had rented the accident vehicle. New York's V.T.L. § 388 has a dual purpose; it is intended to ensure that injured parties have recourse against a financially responsible owner, and also encourages owners to exercise care when entrusting their vehicle to others. In Ethan Ruby's case, the injuries were substantial, and it was critical to his future care and financial security to have a financially viable defendant.

After extensive discovery on both liability and damages, and prior to trial, Budget Rent A Car conceded liability. Efforts to settle the case were fruitless, with Budget offering less in settlement than the jury ultimately awarded in future pain and suffering alone. After a 3 1⁄2 week damages trial, the jury returned an award of $24.5 million, which included past and future medical expenses of $5.5 million, lost of income of $4 million, and past and future pain and suffering of $15 million. Upon post-trial motions, the trial court let stand the $3 million verdict for past pain and suffering, but reduced the future pain and suffering award to $9 million, and reduced future medical expenses by $1 million, and entered judgment for $20.3 million. The First Department reinstated some of the trial court's reductions of the jury's verdict, but further reduced the award for future pain and suffering to $8 million.

Subsequent to the litigation, the so-called "Graves Amendment," which ended vicarious liability for car rental and leasing companies, was signed into law by President Bush. The Graves Amendment was tucked into an otherwise non-controversial highway funding bill. The constitutionality of the amendment is being challenged, and the final chapter of that book is not
yet written. In the meantime, the Graves Amendment has seriously undercut the ability of seriously injured victims to meet their needs when the driver of a vehicle provided by a rental company or leasing company is uninsured or underinsured.