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Record $71M Spinal Cord Injury Verdict Awarded to Former Cornell Undergrad

A New York jury returned a record-setting $71 million spinal cord injury verdict for a former Cornell University co-ed gravely injured in a 2012 car crash, the New York Daily News reports.

In August 2012, 23-year-old Neil Sexton fell asleep at the wheel of his 2012 Chevrolet Equinox while driving Brooklyn resident Morgan Wang, 19, to the university. Wang was seated in the back seat of the car.

The accident occurred on State Route 79 in Dryden, N.Y., fewer than 10 miles from Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

Sexton crashed head-on into a 2002 Chrysler minivan driven by Laraine Ericson, 59, of Newfield, N.Y. Ericson’s son and 94-year-old Myra Moran were passengers in Ericson’s vehicle.

Wang was airlifted to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse while first-responders transported Sexton to Cayuga Medical Center to treat him for cuts on his legs and hips, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Moran died at the scene. Ericson and her son suffered non life-threatening injuries.

Wang fractured her back and suffered spinal cord injuries, losing feeling in her lower legs. She later sued Sexton for causing the crash when he fell asleep at the wheel.

The Daily News reports that she needs leg braces to walk and “doctors have told her she will be unable to walk at all in her later years.”

The spinal cord injury verdict is one of the largest of its kind in the United States, according to Wang’s attorney, Ben Rubinowitz. Jurors reached their decision following a three-week trial in Manhattan Supreme Court.

The $71 million spinal cord injury verdict was broken down as follows: $60 million for future medical expenses, $6 million for future pain and suffering, and $5 million for past pain and suffering, according to the New York Law Journal.

Rubinowitz told the New York Post that due to her catastrophic injuries, his client, now 24, had to withdraw from Cornell because its hilly campus “was too challenging for her to navigate in a wheelchair” and that Wang, a former skier, runner and sailor, has permanently lost feeling in her feet.

In a 2015 article published in the Cornell Daily Sun, with the headline “Access and Stigma Key Issues for Disabled Students,” Wang was quoted as saying that “physically navigating the [Cornell] campus is a total nightmare.”

Wang now battles depression, telling the Daily News that she is “fearful of the future because I know that unfortunately I will be confined to a wheelchair at some point in my life.”

She requires ongoing medical and psychological treatment.

“My life has never been the same” since the accident, she told the Post.

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