$185,000 Settlement in Insurance Dispute

Tatar v. DeStefano Insurance Agency, MID-L-10035-09; Middlesex County Superior Court; Nov. 5.

Facts & Allegations: Jan Tatar, the owner and sole employee of a stucco company, alleged that on May 23, 2009, a nail in a nail gun he was using bounced back and went into his right eye, resulting in a permanent loss of vision in that eye.

He said that he had bought workers’ compensation insurance through DeStefano Insurance Agency in 2006, but his claim was denied on the grounds that a form apparently signed by Tatar excluded employers from coverage.

Tatar filed a professional malpractice suit against DeStefano, claiming that he had explained to the agency’s representative, who has since died, that he needed workers’ compensation insurance for himself since he worked for his own company.

Tatar, who is fluent in English but speaks it as a second language, claimed the agency’s sales representative filled out the paperwork and had Tatar simply sign on the designated line, without explaining that he would not be insured if injured in the course of his work.

His attorney argued that it would be illogical for Tatar to have purchased a policy that did not cover him.

The defense argued that Tatar bought the insurance to cover employees he anticipated hiring and had knowingly signed the waiver of coverage for employers injured in work-related incidents.

Tatar claimed that no further operations or treatments will restore his vision.

The case settled for $185,000.

Plaintiff Attorney:Zlata Rudikh, Rudikh & Associates, East Brunswick.

Defense Attorney: John Van Dyken, Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers, Cherry Hill.

Insurer: Lexington Insurance Co.

This report is based on information from plaintiff counsel. Defense counsel did not return calls.


$65,000 Verdict in Crash Suit

McConnell v. Ciesla, MON-L-3518-10; Monmouth County Superior Court; Judge Paul Kapalko; Sept. 26.

Facts & Allegations: On Nov. 23, 2008, Kristin McConnell alleged that she was traveling north on Route 71 in Manasquan in slowing traffic when hit from behind.

Shortly after the accident, McConnell went to orthopedic specialists, complaining of neck stiffness and pain.

Her orthopedics expert said the accident led to extensive cervical-disc problems, resulting in central canal stenosis with slight right-sided cord flattening at C5-6. She was also diagnosed with right-sided radiculopathy at C6.

McConnell treated conservatively, but allegedly continued to experience neck, arm and hand pain. She was recommended for pain management therapy, but it was deferred because she became pregnant in May 2009, gave birth in January 2010 and was nursing afterward. She underwent epidural injections in September 2010 and November 2011.

Her medical expenses totaled $11,000.

McConnell sued the driver of the other car, Darlene Ciesla, for negligence.

Liability was stipulated, but the defense contended that McConnell’s personal-injury claims were barred by the verbal-threshold tort limitation.

The case went to trial as to the verbal-threshold and damages-related issues.

The defense argued that McConnell’s cervical condition had been caused by degeneration, not the accident.

The jury found that McConnell had proved that the accident had caused her to suffer permanent bodily injury sufficiently serious to surpass the verbal tort threshold. She was awarded $65,000.

Plaintiff Attorney:Roy Curnow, Spring Lake Heights.

Defense Attorney:J. Patrick McMorrow, Law Office of Doreen Ryan, Wall.

Insurer: Allstate.

Trial Details: trial length: 2 days; jury deliberations: 1 hour; jury poll: 6-0.

Plaintiff Expert: Mandeep Othee, M.D., orthopedics, Neptune.

Defense Expert: None reported.

This report is based on information from plaintiff counsel. Defense counsel declined to comment.


Defense Verdict in Fall

Larina v. Arnaldi, MID-L-2474-10; Middlesex County Superior Court; Judge Richard Plechner; Sept. 20.

Facts & Allegations: Tatiana Larina claimed that she was attending a Christmas Eve party in Matawan at the home of her friends, Laudi and Doris Arnaldi, in 2009 when she fell on a wet spot on the basement floor.

Larina was treated for a bimalleolar ankle fracture, and underwent open reduction surgery involving the insertion of stabilizing hardware.

A treating orthopedic surgeon testified by video that Larina had healed fairly well, but would have some permanent limitation of ankle function and range of motion. She also had permanent surgical scars on the ankle, it was claimed.

An orthopedic surgery expert retained by the defense arrived at similar conclusions, though the expert did not testify at trial.

Larina sued the Arnaldis for negligence, claiming that the accumulated moisture on the floor constituted an open and dangerous condition.

They denied the allegation and argued that any moisture that may have accumulated amounted to a hidden defect as observable to Larina as it was to them.

Court-mandated arbitration proceedings ended with a $150,000 damages assessment, but 50 percent of the fault was attributed to Larina, resulting in a $75,000 arbitration award. The defense appealed, and obtained a trial de novo.

The jury found that the Arnaldis had not been negligent.

Plaintiff Attorney:F. Kevin Lynch, East Brunswick.

Defense Attorney: Donald Thornton, Law Office of Doreen Ryan, Cranford.

Insurer: Allstate for both defendants.

Trial Details: trial length: 3 days; jury deliberations: 10 minutes; jury poll: 6-1.

Plaintiff Expert: Gregg Berkowitz, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Freehold.

Defense Expert: Robert J. Bercik, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Clark.

This report is based on information from plaintiff counsel. Defense counsel declined to comment.

The cases that appear here are derived from VerdictSearch New Jersey, an affiliate of the New Jersey Law Journal. For more reports from VerdictSearch, or to request research, go to or call 1-800-832-1900.