A Suffolk jury has awarded $3.6 million to a former Lake Ronkonkoma man who was blinded in one eye in 2005 after two teenagers in a moving car struck him with a plastic cup filled with urine.
After a two-day trial, the jury on Jan. 13 ordered the driver, Brian C. Sullivan, 28, of Farmingville, and his passenger, Robert Harford, 29, of Patchogue, to pay $3.5 million in compensation for the pain and suffering they inflicted on George Ciminello, 28, as well as for Ciminello’s loss of enjoyment of life.
The six-member jury also ordered Sullivan and Harford to pay $100,000 in punitive damages.DataLI crime stats
“It’s not like they just took my eyesight,” said Ciminello, who was 18 years old at the time of the July 29, 2005, attack. “They also took my future from me.”
Ciminello, who lost permanent vision in his left eye, had planned to follow his father’s and brother’s footsteps and work as a Long Island Rail Road engineer but said his permanent vision loss precluded him from choosing that as a career.
He said he also had to forego other lines of work he wanted to pursue, such as becoming a detective.
“Mine is not fixable,” he said.
Sullivan, through his attorney, declined to comment, and Harford did not respond to a request for an interview.
Their attorneys plan to petition Suffolk State Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Pastoressa — who presided over the trial in Riverhead — to set aside the award, saying it was “excessive.”
Ciminello’s attorney, Michael Della of Ronkonkoma, who had asked for $5 million in compensation, said the vision loss affects every aspect of his client’s life.
For a simple task, such as shaving, Ciminello depends on his fiancee. When he tilts his head to shave the left side of his face, Ciminello said he’s unable to see it in the mirror.
Dizziness is a common occurrence, Ciminello said. He depends on his fiancee and others to drive him. At work, he’s forced to wear sunglasses to dim the light on his computer screens, so it does not give him a headache.
“After the verdict, George told me he would give the money back if he could get his sight back,” said Della.
The night of the attack, Ciminello and his best friend had gone to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Regal in Ronkonkoma, which ended around midnight. Both were walking on Portion Road heading home when, Ciminello said, a car driving at about 30 mph to 40 mph pulled up next to them. The front passenger, Harford, holding a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup filled with urine, smacked Ciminello in the face, severing a nerve in the left eye.
“I remembered my face kind of felt numb at first. I couldn’t open my eyes. Then came the shooting pain,” Ciminello said in an interview Tuesday. “And, blood came out of my nose.”
His friend panicked and brought him to a nearby McDonald’s and got some napkins to stop the bleeding, he said. Then, she called 911 and their parents.
While Ciminello was being tended to by police officers and his parents, he said Sullivan drove past him for a second time, and Ciminello’s friend pointed out the car to the officers.
Ciminello — who attended one day of the civil trial when Harford testified — said he learned that Harford and three friends in the car had picked him at random and had intended to humiliate him.
In the more than a decade since that summer night, Ciminello said Sullivan and Harford have never apologized to him.
“They never took the time to say I am sorry to me,” Ciminello said.