United States District Court, D. Maryland
Xinis United States District Judge
case concerns a United States Postal Service truck crashing
into Plaintiff Ronald High (“Mr. High”) while Mr.
High was riding his bicycle. As a result, Mr. High sustained
serious injury to his left shoulder. Mr. High filed suit
against the United States for negligence pursuant to the
Federal Tort Claims Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1346. In advance of
trial, the parties stipulated to the Government's
liability, as well as damages arising from Mr. High's
lost wages, medical bills, and the value of his bicycle,
which was destroyed in the crash. The total stipulated
economic damages are $46, 740. ECF No. 31 ¶ 1-6.
sole remaining question at trial, therefore, concerned Mr.
High's non-economic damages for pain and suffering,
including his pre-impact fright, loss of use and enjoyment of
his shoulder, and other emotional distress. Trial took place
on January 30, 2018. At the conclusion of the presentation of
evidence, the Government conceded that Mr. High was entitled
to some compensation for his pain and suffering, and
recommended that the Court award non-economic damages of $32,
260, for a total award of $77, 000. Based on the unrebutted
evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that Mr. High is
entitled to $154, 000 in non-economic damages, for a total
award of $200, 740.
parties agree that in this suit, Maryland law allows recovery
for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, and emotional
distress. See McAlister v. Carl, 233 Md. 446, 452-55
(1964); Smith v. Borello, 370 Md. 227, 245-57
(2002). McAlister broadly addresses permissible
compensation for losing “things which involve matters
of common experience with which a jury may be expected to
have some familiarity.” Id. A plaintiff may
also recover for his emotional distress, such as
“depression, anguish, and grief.” See
Smith, 370 Md. at 247. Finally, a court may award
damages for pre-impact fright or “fear and its physical
manifestations” during a “reasonable window of
anxiety.” Faya v. Almaraz, 329 Md. 435, 456
(1993). As with all claimed damages, the plaintiff bears the
burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence
not only the damage itself, but that the defendant's
negligence proximately caused that damage.
Findings of Fact
The Crash - Pre Impact Fright
trial, Mr. High testified without challenge to the harrowing
events leading up to the crash. Mr. High explained that
before the crash, he was an avid cyclist, riding 40 to 60
miles three times a week. On August 24, 2013, Mr. High was
cycling on Central Avenue. As Mr. High approached an
intersection, he testified to seeing a postal truck. Mr. High
knew that he had the right of way, so he proceeded to cross
the intersection. As Mr. High was crossing, he heard the
truck rev its engine and saw the truck approaching on his
right side. He began to wave his hand and scream “bike,
bike bike, ” in a futile attempt to capture the truck
driver's attention and avoid the crash. At that moment,
Mr. High was “totally terrified.” The truck then
struck High on the right side with great enough force that it
sheared his cycle in three places.
impact, Mr. High was catapulted three or four feet in the
air. He recalls bouncing on the truck's hood, sliding
across, and landing in the street head first. His left
shoulder was “driven right into the road” on
impact. Mr. High was paralyzed from the pain. “I just
couldn't move. I couldn't help myself up. . . . I was
just helpless” in the middle of a busy intersection.
Mr. High did not lose consciousness, and so recalls police
and first responders coming to his aid. He was transported by
ambulance to Anne Arundel Medical Center where he was treated
for a sizeable knot on his head, abrasions to his leg and
hand, and injuries to his left shoulder.
From Crash to Surgery
direct result of the crash, Mr. High suffered a grade 2
separation of the acromioclavicular (“AC”) joint
in his left shoulder. Initially, Mr. High was treated through
pain medication and physical therapy. He attended twenty one
physical therapy sessions over the course of fourteen months.
However, it is undisputed that Mr. High continued to
experience pain, limited range of motion, and other
persistent symptoms such as a popping, grinding, and a
clicking sensation in his shoulder.
Mr. High eventually went back to work at his two jobs (as a
water meter technician for Washington Suburban Sanitation
Commission and as a custodian for Stephenson's
Custodial), he suffered limitations at work. One time, Mr.
High related that his shoulder “locked” in place
and he could not lower his arm without excruciating pain.
“Those kind of things continued to happen for a while,
” Mr. High noted during trial.
search of pain relief, Mr. High was twice treated with
steroid injections. The shots had little effect. As a result,
Mr. High also was limited in his physical activity at home.
Before the crash, Mr. High did all of the heavy lifting in
his household. His wife, Joanne High (“Mrs.
High”), testified that Mr. High did the vacuuming, took
care of the lawn, washed both cars, and lifted “heavy
things such as plants or if I needed something moved around
the house like an aerial [sic] rug.” After the crash
and for a significant time, Mrs. High, who suffers from
spinal stenosis, had to take over many of these
responsibilities. Although Mr. High gradually regained
strength and mobility, he could not do everything he once had
done. Basic “motions continued to aggravate” his
shoulder. “The things that I did on a daily basis, just
part of living, just going home, reaching in the cabinet,