In Grecco v. McGowan, a Middlesex County jury last month awarded $3.55 million, including $50,000 in punitive damages, to a passenger in a car struck by a drunken driver.
On Oct. 1, 2011, Katherine Grecco was riding in a vehicle driven by her boyfriend, Peter Tyliczka, on Clifton Street in Westfield. The vehicle was traveling through the intersection with Tice Place when another motorist, Robert McGowan, traveling on Tice Place, failed to stop at a stop sign, striking Tyliczka’s vehicle. Tyliczka, 69, was killed, while Grecco, then 61, sustained a severe head injury leading to a brain bleed, as well as fractures to her right arm, left ankle, ribs and collar bone, said her lawyer, Craig Rothenberg of Rothernberg, Rubenstein, Berliner & Shinrod in Clinton.
Grecco has ongoing cognitive issues and was unable to return to work as a secretary, according to Rothenberg.
McGowan, of Stamford, Connecticut, 32, was later charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in August 2016, and is presently serving a prison sentence, according to news reports and electronic records.
McGowan had consumed alcohol at two area restaurants in the hours leading up to the crash: The Jolley Trolly in Westfield and The Office in Cranford, according to Rothenberg, who said McGowan had three pints of high-alcohol beer at the first establishment, and one and a half more pints of high-alcohol beer at the second.
The suit named McGowan, as well as Jolley Trolly and The Office, which were under common ownership. Counts against the Jolley Trolly were withdrawn, Rothenberg said.
The matter was tried in Middlesex County, of which Tylczika was a resident.
At trial before Superior Court Judge Phillip Paley, the defense contended that Grecco’s cognitive issues were attributable to Parkinson’s Disease rather than the accident injuries, and challenged the severity of her orthopedic injuries, according to Rothenberg. The Office disputed claims that McGowan was visibly intoxicated when he was served alcohol there. The defense also raised a seat belt defense, and the parties disputed whether Grecco was wearing a seat belt, he said.
The jury on Feb. 8 apportioned 60 percent of the fault to McGowan and 40 percent to The Office, rejected the seat belt defense, and awarded Grecco $3.5 million. At a subsequent punitive damages trial on Feb. 22, the jury awarded her an additional $50,000, against McGowan.
After the trial, The Office agreed to settle for an amount equal to its share of the verdict, $1.4 million plus interest, Rothenberg said. He noted that claims brought on Tyliczka’s behalf were settled, though he didn’t reveal the terms.
Rothenberg tried the case along with Dean S. Pashaian of the same firm.
Joseph Kreoll of Cruser, Mitchell, Novitz, Sanchez, Gaston & Zimet in Woodcliff Lake, for McGowan, and Emery Mishky of Margolis Edelstein in Berkeley Heights, for The Office, didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.
— David Gialanella
$1.95M For Parking Lot Fall
Gutierrez v. Menpe Corp.: A Paterson man is to receive $1.95 million as compensation for injuries sustained when he slipped and fell on untreated ice on his employer’s parking lot.
Plaintiff Odwin Gutierrez, now 45, of Paterson, agreed to the settlement with the insurance carrier for defendant Menpe Corp. on Feb. 24, said Gutierrez’s attorney, Gregg Stone.
Stone declined to identify the Menpe’s carrier or Gutierrez’s employer, which was not a party to the case. The attorneys representing Menpe, David Semple and Philip Priore of McCormick & Priore in Princeton, did not return calls seeking comment.
Gutierrez fell on Dec. 18, 2013, at the Perth Amboy facility, while he was in the process of inspecting his company-owned vehicle. Gutierrez’s employer leased the property from Menpe, said Stone, of Newark’s Kirsch, Gelband & Stone.
The lawsuit, filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, claimed Menpe failed to properly maintain the parking lot, Stone said.
Gutierrez, Stone said, sustained lower back injuries and had to undergo lower lumbar surgeries with fusion, and six lumbar epidural injections.
The settlement will be offset by a worker’s compensation lien of $436,000, Stone said.
Ronald Morgan, of Stone’s firm, also represented Gutierrez.
— Michael Booth
$630K For Rear-End Case in Union
Apanco v. Steriti: A motorist who suffered spinal injuries after his vehicle was rear-ended at a traffic light agreed to a $630,000 settlement in his Union County suit on Jan. 5.
Rigoberto Apanco, now 36, was stopped in traffic on May 26, 2015, while preparing to make a left turn from East First Street to Walnut Street in Roselle Park. He was struck from behind by a 17,000-pound utility truck driven by Paolo Steriti and owned by Pivotal Utility Holdings., an affiliate of the Elizabethtown Gas Co., according to plaintiff lawyer Steven Haddad.
The suit claimed Steriti was inattentive at the time of the accident, and a video of the crash obtained from a security camera showed him looking to one side, Haddad said.
Apanco underwent a microdiscectomy, which provided some pain relief, according to Haddad. As part-owner of a home-improvement business, he was able to return to work on light duty, Haddad said.
The parties reached their settlement in mediation with former Superior Court Judge Mark Epstein of Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas in New Brunswick.
Haddad, who heads a firm in Edison, was assisted by Nehal Modi of his firm.
Steriti and Pivotal Utility Holdings were represented by Paul Clark of Wade Clark Mulcahy in Springfield. He confirmed that the case settled but declined to discuss the terms.
— Charles Toutant