In Tortorella v. Ong, a Middlesex County jury on April 20 awarded a Scotch Plains woman $5 million in damages as compensation for spinal injuries she sustained when her car was rear-ended.

The jury, after deliberating 45 minutes, awarded the damages to plaintiff Sandi Tortorella, now 43, at trial before Superior Court Judge Thomas McCloskey, according to her attorney, Nicholas Leonardis of Stathis & Leonardis in Edison. The trial came after Tortorella rejected a pretrial offer of $500,000, he said.

Tortorella was injured on Feb. 19, 2015, as she was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Old Raritan Road and Woodland Avenue in Edison, and her car was struck from behind by a car driven by defendant Tiyun Ong of Short Hills, Leonardis said.

Tortorella sustained herniated discs at the cervical level, which required spinal fusion and the insertion of screws and plates, Leonardis said.

The suit claimed the injuries are likely to result in further disc degeneration, which will require additional surgery in the future, he said.

The damages awarded were all for pain and suffering, he noted.

Ong’s carrier, State Farm Insurance Co., retained Stephen Czeslowski of Campbell, Foley, Delano & Adams in Toms River. He didn’t return a call seeking comment.

— Michael Booth

$2.3M For Man Dragged by Transit Bus

Arpad v. New Jersey Transit: A man struck by and dragged underneath a New Jersey Transit bus for 1.7 miles settled his Passaic County suit on March 15 for $2.3 million.

On the evening of Dec. 2, 2014, Seres Arpad, then 60, was walking his dog in the Wayne Transit Center in Wayne, near his home. He crossed at an intersection where the bus was stopped, and the bus began making a left turn across the lane where Arpad was walking, striking him and his dog, said his lawyer, David Mazie of Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman in Roseland.

Arpad was lodged under the rear axle of the bus, which stopped to drop off passengers soon after striking him but soon continued on its route, with Arpad holding on underneath. The bus traveled at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and didn’t stop until after it had traveled 1.7 miles, when it was stopped by police called by a passenger on the bus who had witnessed Arpad being hit, according to Mazie. Arpad’s dog, Crystal, was killed.

The bus driver, Erickson Manlapid, would later say he heard a noise but didn’t realize he had struck someone, Mazie said.

Arpad, extricated from the undercarriage of the bus, sustained fractures to his right fibula and ribs, as well as severe abrasions and burns to numerous parts of his body, including his buttocks, where the injuries led to necrosis, the suit claimed, also alleging that blunt trauma led to a total vision loss in his right eye. Arpad was hospitalized for seven weeks at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson and underwent five surgeries, Mazie said.

The suit also claimed that Arpad suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is unable to engage in outdoor activities as he used to do, and suffered emotional damages from the loss of his dog.

The defense contended that Arpad was crossing the street where there was no crosswalk, during darkness and rainy conditions.

The parties were scheduled for a March 24 trial when they settled on March 15 during mediation with John Keefe Sr., a retired Superior Court judge with the Keefe Law Firm in Red Bank. The settlement was approved in a friendly hearing by Passaic County Superior Court Judge Bruno Mongiardi but has yet to be paid, according to Mazie.

Benjamin Clarke of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin in Teaneck, for NJ Transit, didn’t return a call seeking comment on the settlement.

— David Gialanella

Falling Chandelier Injury Nets $975K

Knight v. The Washington Club: A woman who sustained head and neck injuries when a decades-old chandelier fell on her inside an event hall was paid $975,000 to settle her Gloucester County suit on Dec. 4, 2017.

On Jan. 14, 2016, Penny Knight was helping to set up for a 16th birthday party at the Washington Club in Penns Grove. As a facility worker was on a ladder hanging streamers from a large, 150-pound chandelier hanging from the middle ceiling, it came loose and fell on Knight, who was standing below, according to her lawyer, Louis DeVoto of Rossetti & DeVoto in Cherry Hill.

Knight sustained a traumatic brain injury, and neck injuries that aggravated an existing degenerative condition, the suit claimed. The brain injury led to issues with cognition, memory, personality, anxiety and depression, and the neck injuries necessitated a four-level laminectomy at the cervical level, and a seven-level fusion procedure at the cervical and thoracic levels, DeVoto said, noting that Knight, currently 77, is now cared for by her daughter.

The suit claimed the care provided by Knight’s daughter would have a value of $1.2 million over Knight’s lifetime.

The Washington Club was named in the Gloucester County suit, as was Mother of Grace Lodge, which owned the hall and leased it to the club. The suit claimed the chandelier was improperly installed, missing a piece of hardware that would have prevented two threaded components of it from coming disconnected. Knight alleged that the defendants failed to inspect and maintain the chandelier.

The defense, disputing liability based on the statute of repose, pointed out that the chandelier had been mounted decades earlier by a now-unknown party and required no maintenance, and contended that there was no notice of the defect because the issue was above the ceiling line and not visible, according to DeVoto and the attorney for Mother of Grace, Russell Macnow of Colts Neck.

The defense also contended that Knight’s spinal injuries were mostly attributable to the degenerative condition, they said.

After expert discovery but before a scheduled Nov. 30 arbitration date, the settlement was reached and finalized as of Dec. 4, 2017. The defendants agreed to pay $975,000 of $1 million in available coverage through two FMI Insurance policies, the lawyers said.

Macnow confirmed the settlement, noting that each defendant paid $487,500.

Counsel for Washington Club, Sharon Ferucci of Testa, Heck, Testa & White in Vineland, didn’t return a call about the case.

— David Gialanella