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Suit Over Worker’s Fatal Plunge Settles for $2 Million in Middlesex Estate of Pereira v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Safespan Platform Systems Inc.: The estate of a laborer who fell 80 feet to his death while repairing the Outerbridge Crossing connecting Staten Island and New Jersey will receive $2 million under a Jan. 27 settlement with the bridge owner and the scaffolding contractor. On June 8, 2001, Manuel Pereira, 52, of Newark, was on a platform under the Port Authority-owned bridge on the Perth Amboy side loading concrete rubble into barrels. Three metal supports holding the platform to the underside of the bridge broke, the platform slanted downward and Pereira fell to the ground, says the estate’s lawyer, Adam Rothenberg, a partner in Edison’s Levinson Axelrod. The suit alleged there was a design defect in the platform manufactured and installed by Safespan Platform Systems Inc. of Tonawanda, N.Y. Rothenberg says a Port Authority investigatory report he obtained by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act supported his contention because it suggested that the steel supports weren’t strong enough. According to defense evidence, the contractor should have been using chutes to remove the debris in a continuous stream rather than collect it in barrels that were too heavy for the platform. The suit was filed in Middlesex County. No trial date was set and the case settled before the plaintiff retained a liability expert, Rothenberg says. He says the settlement was facilitated by a mediator, retired Middlesex County Civil Presiding Judge C. Judson Hamlin, of counsel to Bedminster’s Purcell, Ries, Shannon, Mulcahy & O’Neill. William Riina, a partner in Newark’s Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker who represented both defendants, confirms the amount of the settlement but declines further comment. - By Henry Gottlieb $1 Million for Medical Malpractice Gustitus v. Duch: A Metuchen woman settled a delayed diagnosis claim against a medical practice for $1 million on Jan. 30 in Middlesex County. On May 6, 1997, Lucinda Gustitus, then 21 and a senior at Kean University, was being examined by optometrist William Ference of Edison. He noticed at the edge of her corneas Kayser Fleischer rings, symptoms of Wilson’s disease, which causes copper buildup in the liver or brain and damages the kidneys, brain and eyes. It is fatal if not treated in time. Ference faxed his observations to Gustitus’ internist, Peter Duch, at Metuchen Heart Associates, but a staff member placed it in Gustitus’ file without showing it to a doctor, according to plaintiffs’ lawyer John Blume, of Blume, Goldfaden, Berkowitz, Donnelly, Fried & Forte in Chatham. At the time, Gustitus was seeing New Brunswick psychiatrist Hilary Hanchuk for depression. Although psychiatric problems can be a symptom of Wilson’s disease, Blume says, Hanchuk never administered a physical exam nor suggested one to rule out an organic basis for Gustitus’ problems and that he ignored tremors and blood test results that showed elevated enzyme levels, which should have prompted further investigation. By March 1998, the symptoms had worsened to the point that Duch ordered an MRI. Between the spring of 1997 and that diagnosis in 1998, Gustitus had deteriorated significantly, according to Blume’s expert, Dr. Michael Schilsky, medical director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. She was weak and shaking, was losing control of her bowels and bladder, required a feeding tube and ended up spending 10 months in hospitals and nursing homes. Blume says the condition is under control with medication but is permanent, with residual effects such as depression, mood swings, tremors and abnormal limb movement. Gustitus sued Duch, Metuchen Heart Associates, Hanchuk, Ference, and others. With the help of Superior Court Judge Bryan Garruto, settlement was reached with Metuchen Heart Associates, which has a $2 million liability policy with Zurich-American Insurance. Claims were dropped against Duch and all other defendants except Hanchuk, in whose case trial is set for May, says Blume. Hanchuk’s lawyer, Debra Urbanowicz-Pandos of Mountainside’s Duran & Pandos, could not be reached for comment, nor could the lawyer for Metuchen Heart Associates and Duch, Sam Rosenberg, of Reiseman Rosenberg & Pfund in Morris Plains, – By Mary P. Gallagher $495,000 for Wrongful Discharge Ballinger v. Delaware River Port Authority: A former Delaware River Port Authority police lieutenant won $495,000 on Feb. 11 in settlement of his common law wrongful-discharge suit. Ralph Ballinger, now 44, claims his February 1995 firing was in retaliation for his having told the New Jersey state police that his colleagues were stealing office equipment and furniture from a closed factory in Camden. The DRPA contended that Ballinger was fired for failing to follow the chain of command and further maintained that its officers had permission to remove the items. No theft charges were filed. Ballinger originally sued under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, but the state Supreme Court ruled in Ballinger v. Del. River Port Auth., 172 N.J. 586 (2002), that the DRPA, created by a compact between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was not subject to CEPA since its provisions differ substantially from the corresponding Pennsylvania law. Ballinger received the settlement three weeks into a trial before Camden County Superior Court Judge Louise Donaldson. The Port Authority did not make any pretrial settlement offer but pitched the $495,000 figure about two days before the jury was to get the case, says Mario Iavicoli, the Haddonfield solo practitioner representing Ballinger. The DRPA’s lawyer, Matthew Wieliczko, a partner at Zeller & Bryant in Cherry Hill, referred questions about the case to the DRPA. Spokeswoman My Linh Nguyen confirmed the settlement. � By Charles Toutant $465,000 for Slip and Fall Ellingson v. Grove Street Associates: A woman who tripped and fell on a Jersey City sidewalk accepted a $465,000 settlement on Feb. 9. Donna Ellingson of North Bergen, a 39-year-old butcher, tripped in May 2000 on a piece of loose sidewalk maintained by Grove Street Associates, a commercial real estate concern based on the street of the same name. GSA owned the building, but the building was managed by its original developer, Mack-Cali, the Cranford-based real estate concern. Ellingson’s injury required surgery on her left ligaments and bursa. About a year later, she required surgery on her right Achilles tendon as a result of her compensating for the injury on her left leg, says her lawyer, Kenneth Berkowitz of Blume, Goldfaden, Berkowitz, Donnelly, Fried & Forte in Chatham. The injuries prevented her from standing for long periods of time, preventing her from returning to her job, at which she earned a $27,000 salary. Of the settlement, $450,000 was paid by Mack-Cali. The remainder, $15,000, was paid by Larkin Services Group, a subcontractor that maintained the sidewalk for Mack-Cali. Mack-Cali was represented by Thomas Wester, a partner at McDermott & McGee in Millburn. He declines comment. Mack-Cali’s insurer was Zurich Insurance Co. Larkin was represented by associate Brendan McDade of Kramkowski, Fabricant & Bressler in Fairfield. He declines comment. Larkin’s insurer was Liberty Mutual. - By Jim Edwards

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