Jury awards $60.79 million to woman struck by falling shopping cart

Ms Marion Hedges was at a parking kiosk at the East River Plaza Mall in Manhattan (above) when two boys hoisted a shopping cart over a railing above.
Ms Marion Hedges was at a parking kiosk at the East River Plaza Mall in Manhattan (above) when two boys hoisted a shopping cart over a railing above.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Nearly seven years after two boys pushed a shopping cart off a walkway at a Manhattan mall, severely injuring a woman four stories below, a jury decided to award more than US$45 million (S$60.79 million) to her and her family.

The woman, Ms Marion Hedges, had just shopped for Halloween candy with her son, Dayton, then 13, at the East River Plaza Mall in East Harlem in October 2011 and was at a parking kiosk when the two boys hoisted the cart over a railing above. It plummeted more than 21 metres and struck Ms Hedges on the head.

Ms Hedges, a philanthropist, stopped breathing and was rushed to the hospital. She suffered serious brain damage and today she struggles with diminished cognitive abilities, double vision, incontinence and memory loss, her lawyer, Mr Thomas Moore, said.

Court documents show that Ms Hedges and her family sued the mall and Planned Security Service, which was under contract to secure the mall's common areas, including the walkway where the boys pushed the shopping cart over the edge.

The amount of damages can be contested by the defence, and a judge may decide to reduce the award.

The two boys who pushed the cart were arrested and convicted as juveniles, court documents show. Ms Hedges did not sue them.

In his statements to the court, Mr Moore said the security company knew about repeated instances of objects being thrown from the pedestrian walkways, presenting a danger to passers-by below that was never adequately addressed.

Mr Jeffrey Van Etten, a lawyer for the security company, said it would appeal the jury's decision.

He said the company had done its job "properly and professionally".

"It's a very difficult case because of what happened to Mrs Hedges, and we all feel for her," he added. "We all wish her well. We hope she can continue to improve. Unfortunately, this case will have to go on further."

Lawyers for the mall's owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday (June 15).

Ms Hedges, 53, has worked as charity board member, a philanthropist and a real estate broker.

"She never saw a legitimate cause or need that she didn't embrace," Mr Moore said.

Video footage shows that three boys were together on the fourth-level walkway just before the cart was tossed.

One appeared to try stop the other two from throwing the cart. Then he ran away, and the other two lifted it over the railing. It got stuck, just for a moment, before one boy gave a final shove to send it hurtling over the edge.

Footage from the parking garage shows the cart falling on Ms Hedges, who collapsed immediately.