A construction worker who suffered spinal injuries after a fall at a building under construction settled his Middlesex County suit, Pinho v. Meridia Metro Hackensack, for $1.265 million on March 21.

Moises Pinho, a mason foreman for a concrete contractor, was working on construction of a seven-story condominium building in Hackensack on Dec. 20, 2013, when he tripped on a rebar mat form and injured his back, his suit claimed.

Pinho sustained a herniated disc at L2-L3, and annular tears at L3-L4 and L5-S1. In April 2014, he underwent a discectomy at L2-L3 and in September 2015 underwent a laminectomy at L4-L5. He has been unable to work at his previous job since the accident and claimed $300,000 in lost wages, said his attorney, Gerald Clark of the Clark Law Firm in Belmar.

Pinho filed suit against the owner-developer of the project, Capodaghli Property Company, and general contractor Meridia Metro Hackensack.

Discovery revealed Meridia had no safety meetings, safety rules or safety manual, and no accident-prevention measures were in place at the site, according to Clark. Pinho claimed a plywood walking path should have been installed on the rebar mat so workers did not have to walk directly on the rebar.

Meridia settled for $1.25 million during trial on March 21. Capodaghli settled for $15,000 in November 2017.

William Paulus of the Law Office of Gerard Green in Princeton represented Meridia. He did not return a call about the case. Neither did Frank Falcone of Kennedys in Basking Ridge, representing Capodaghli.

— Charles Toutant

$1.2M Auto Settlement

Mamola v. Tetro: A man injured when his vehicle was struck by another motorist who lost consciousness behind the wheel settled his Middlesex County suit for $1.2 million on May 11.

On Aug. 8, 2014, Joseph Mamola was headed westbound on Interstate 195 in Wall Township when Rocco A. Tetro of Toms River struck him from behind after losing consciousness behind the wheel, forcing Mamola’s vehicle off the road, according to Mamola’s attorney, Andrew Statmore of Fredson & Statmore in Clifton. 

Tetro, who had a seizure disorder and who didn’t normally drive long distances, was loaned the car by its owner, Michael G. McNeil, also his brother-in-law, though it was later in dispute who specifically—McNeil or McNeil’s wife—permitted Tetro to use the car, Statmore said.

The suit, filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, named McNeil, claiming negligent entrustment, and Tetro.

Mamola, currently 60, claimed in the suit that he sustained disc herniations at the cervical and lumbar levels. He underwent a two-level cervical discectomy, with placement of an artificial disc, and a one-level lumbar fusion. He was later diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome and is undergoing continuing treatment for pain. He previously worked as a security guard at the U.S. Navy station in Monmouth County, but has not gone back to work since the crash and in July 2015 was deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration, according to Statmore.

The suit included a per quod claim on behalf of Mamola’s wife, Cathy, Statmore noted.

The parties settled on May 11. Trial in the matter was scheduled for June 18.

NcNeil’s auto carrier, Progressive, agreed to pay $250,000, while his excess carrier, American Alternative Insurance Corp., agreed to pay $950,000, according to Statmore.

Tetro was represented by Richard Tango of McDermott & McGee in Millburn; McNeil, by Glenn Curving of Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti in Morrsitown. Neither returned a call about the case.

Progressive retained both defense attorneys, according to Statmore.

— David Gialanella

No-Cause in Federal Auto Trial

Suarez v. Johnson: A suit over injuries allegedly sustained by a minivan passenger during a rear-end accident ended in a no-cause verdict at trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on April 12, though the plaintiff is to recover $25,000 through a high-low agreement.

According to attorneys for the plaintiffs and defense, on May 19, 2015, Mildred Suarez, 31, a custodian, was a middle-row passenger in a minivan on Route 130, in Cinnaminson, when the vehicle was rear-ended by a sedan. Suarez claimed neck and back injuries. Suarez sued the driver, Lemuel Johnson, alleging that he was negligent. Summary judgment was entered against Johnson on the issue of liability, and the case was tried on the issues of causation and damages.

Suarez, currently 31, was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where she was examined and released. About two weeks later, Suarez, complaining of neck and lower-back pain, presented to a rehabilitation facility, where she was put on a course of physical therapy. She treated with six months of massage and exercise. After MRIs she was diagnosed with a herniation at the cervical level, and bulging at the cervical and lumbar levels. No further treatment was administered, and Suarez sought to recover $14,000 in outstanding medical bills.

According to the lawyers, Suarez’s expert in neurosurgery causally related her injuries and treatment to the accident. The physician said Suarez requires future surgical intervention, including lumbar decompression and fusion. Suarez testified through a Spanish interpreter. She stated that she experiences daily neck and back pain that increases with use, and that she can no longer play with her three young children. She sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Johnson’s expert in orthopedic surgery, who examined Suarez, testified that her MRIs showed no evidence of trauma and that the alleged herniations appeared to be degenerative bulges, the lawyers said. There were no findings on a physical exam, and no objective evidence of any traumatic injury to Suarez’ cervical and lumbar spine, the expert concluded. Johnson’s counsel cited Suarez’s prior medical records, in which she had complained of lower-back pain.

The parties negotiated a high/low agreement before trial: Damages could not exceed $90,000, but they had to equal or exceed $25,000.

After a four-day trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams in Camden, the eight-member jury, deliberating for 70 minutes, unanimously rendered a defense verdict. It found that Johnson was not liable for harm to Suarez. Thus, Suarez recovered the high/low agreement’s $25,000 minimum amount.

Suarez was represented by Alexander C. Hyder of Quinn Law Group in Philadelphia.

Johnson was insured by Government Employees Insurance Co. and was represented at trial by Darren C. Kayal of Rudolph & Kayal in Manasquan.

VerdictSearch reports