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Sophia v. Buchanan

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

June 21, 2018

Katharyn Sophia, Plaintiff,
Bradford V. Buchanan, Jr., Defendant.


          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Judge

         This action, brought pursuant this Court's admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, involves claims of personal injury suffered by Plaintiff as a result of being struck by a pleasure boat operated by Defendant on the navigable waters of the United States. The parties have stipulated (1) Defendant is liable to Plaintiff for ordinary negligence; (2) Defendant is not liable for punitive damages; (3) Plaintiffs injuries were proximately caused by Defendant's negligence; and (4) Plaintiff did not contribute to her injuries. (Dkt. No. 21). The only issue remaining is the amount of damages Plaintiff is entitled to arising out of Defendant's simple negligence.

         This matter was tried to the Court on June 20, 2018. After fully considering the testimony and other evidence offered at trial, the arguments of the parties, and the legal standards relevant to the claims and defenses of the parties, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         Findings of Fact

         1. Plaintiff and Defendant were in a group boating on the Ashley River in Charleston County, South Carolina on May 12, 2015. Defendant was operating the boat and Plaintiff, then 24 years of age, was being pulled behind the boat on an inner tube. Defendant slowed the boat and Plaintiffs momentum took her into the boat's path, resulting in Plaintiff being struck in multiple locations on her lower torso by the boat's propeller. Plaintiff suffered severe pain, apprehension and fear as a result of her traumatic contact with the boat's propeller and was immediately transported the Medical University Hospital in Charleston for emergency medical care.

         2. Plaintiff was determined to have over one dozen lacerations on her buttocks and legs, with the most severe injuries on her right calf and Achilles area. Her wounds were cleaned and stitches were used to close her lacerations. Plaintiff was then discharged the same day from the hospital with narcotic pain medications and a recommendation that she consult with an orthopaedic surgeon. Plaintiff suffered severe pain initially, which has subsided but never completely disappeared over three years after her injuries.

         3. Plaintiff was initially immobilized by her injuries and required a wheel chair and later crutches to move around. She was out of work for several months and was required to move to her parents' home in Connecticut for assistance with her wound care and recovery.

         4. After several months of recovery, which included numerous physician visits and physical therapy sessions, she was able to return to her former work in the hospitality industry. Her severe pain subsided but she continued to have episodes of pain, paresthesia, and numbness, and a number of her lacerations resulted in significant unsightly and unstable scars. Some of the scar tissue, particularly in her right calf, would spontaneously break down and bleed, and she experienced significant pain when standing for long periods of time. Plaintiff was also diagnosed with a fracture of her proximal fibula and common peroneal nerve dysfunction of her right lower extremity. (Plaintiffs Exhibit T at 154-156, 194-196).

         5. As the direct and proximate result of the events of May 12, 2015, her ongoing recovery, and persistent pain and breakdown of her scarred areas of lacerations, Plaintiff has suffered significant emotional trauma, mental anguish, shock, fright, and humiliation. The Court finds that some of her mental anguish will continue into the future, likely at a lesser degree as time passes.

         6. Plaintiff was referred to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Peter de Vito, who recommended she undergo reconstruction surgery to address the most significant of the scarred areas of her lower leg and Achilles. He described Plaintiffs condition in his medical record as "extremely disfiguring, painful injuries and scars with significant functional deficit." (Plaintiffs Exhibit T at 182). Dr. de Vito testified that he believed Plaintiff is now ready for reconstructive surgery and estimated that it would require at least three different surgical procedures, each performed in a hospital under general anesthesia. Plaintiff testified that she is anxious to have the reconstructive surgery, but the cost of the surgery is presently financially prohibitive and she believes that her health insurance would not cover a sufficient amount of the costs. The Court finds the testimony of Dr. de Vito and Plaintiff on these matters to be credible. Further, the Court finds Plaintiff will suffer wage loss and significant pain and suffering from these multiple reconstructive procedures.

         7. Following Plaintiffs injuries, she was seen by several orthopaedists, at least one of whom, Dr. Blake Ohlson, recommended certain future treatment options. These included knee surgery, decompression of her common peroneal nerve, and various medications and therapies. (Plaintiffs Exhibit T at 194-96). Plaintiff has not pursued any of these therapies. Based on the Plaintiffs testimony at trial, the Court finds that most probably she will not pursue most of these therapies and treatments.

         8. Plaintiff has continued to experience severe pain when standing on her feet for prolonged periods and has been recommended for a Morton's Neuroma resection to address this chronic foot pain arising from her injuries. The Court finds that Plaintiff will most probably pursue this treatment if she has the financial ability to do so.

         9. Plaintiffs injuries forced her to miss several months of work with a total wage loss of $6, 198.85. (Plaintiffs Exhibit U). The Court further finds that she will most probably miss additional work due to her multiple reconstructive surgeries for ...

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