The Post reports that 29-year-old Tiffany Applewhite, who won the hefty judgment on Wednesday after a three-week trial in State Supreme Court, was warned by three city lawyers that she was up against impossible odds. "Three city lawyers... frankly offered nothing, not a red cent. They actually said, ‘You can’t win this case,’ ” her attorney, Thomas Moore, told the paper.
Applewhite's story is the stuff of nightmares—according to court documents, in 1998, the then 12-year-old went into anaphylactic shock after a home nurse administered a cortisone shot for a recurring eye condition. When her mother, Samantha Applewhite, called 911, EMTs arrived without proper medical equipment, including an oxygen mask and defibrillator, even though the pre-teen's heart had stopped. The EMTs also failed to take her to the hospital immediately, instead waiting 20 minutes for a special ambulance to arrive with the proper equipment, according to documents.
Now Applewhite, who had once planned to attend Stuyvesant High School, is "literally trapped in her own body," according to Moore. She is unable to speak, must wear diapers and has been relegated to a feeding tube and a wheelchair.
The city claimed the case was a lost cause for the Applewhites—the suit was initially dismissed by a trial court, though an appeals court later ruled that Applewhite's mother had "justifiably relied" on the EMTs' advice. Moore tells us it's not uncommon for the city to win these types of lawsuits thanks to the legal system. "Here we are in a city where we know we have an EMS system that is broken. We know that there is a very high bar set by appellate courts to prevail against them," he said. "There have been some things in the paper recently, some terrible events that have not resulted in any compensation to the plaintiffs because of that bar, despite failures of care. In this case, thankfully, we were able to clear these hurdles."
The suit was reportedly won with the help of the EMTs' testimony, after they admitted on the stand that they were suspended for 30 days after the incident. "My expert, who was an emergency room physician and worked for 10 years as EMT... said that was the longest suspension he'd ever heard of, 30 days without pay," Moore told us. "Clearly they knew right at the time that this had been abject failure by them."
Moore, who is "close to 100 percent certain that this case is unassailable by appeal," says Tiffany's mother, who is essentially her sole caregiver, plans to use the money awarded to her for her daughter's care—she will hopefully be able to relocate herself and Tiffany to handicap-accessible accommodations, and pay for physical therapies and medical interventions she was previously unable to afford. "Had [the city] given a fair settlement back in 1999 or 2000, Tiffany's life would have been different," Moore said. "Her brain damage wouldn't have been reversed, but the consequences would have been limited."
City Law Department Tort Chief Fay Leoussis tells in a statement, "While this is a tragic case, we believe that the jury's verdict is not consistent with the law. The City will appeal."