A roofer who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 40-foot fall agreed to a $5.6 million settlement in his Union County suit, Smith v. Blue Rock Construction, on April 27.
Russell Smith, who worked for Wolfe Roofing & Sheet Metal, was installing skylights on a commercial building in Elizabeth on Aug. 5, 2013, when he fell to the ground. Smith, then 53, sustained fractures to the right wrist, forearm, left thigh bone, left lower leg and sacrum, in addition to a brain injury. He underwent multiple surgeries for the orthopedic injuries. The fall left him in need of assistance with activities of daily living, which are provided by his wife and a health care assistant, his suit claimed.
According to Smith’s lawyer, Peter Chamas of Gill & Chamas in Woodbridge, Smith’s foreman, Michael Bonte, said he gave Smith instructions to stop cutting a hole to accommodate a skylight, and to secure himself with a harness and lanyard before doing any more work. Immediately after giving those instructions, the foreman was walking away when he heard a noise, turned around, and saw Smith falling through the roof, Chamas said.
The owner of the building, Elizabeth Sullivan LLC, had contracted with Blue Rock Construction Inc. to construct the building, and that company contracted with Wolfe Roofing and Sheet Metal to install the roof, he said.
Smith sued Elizabeth Sullivan LLC and Blue Rock; Blue Rock brought a third-party complaint for insurance coverage and indemnification against Wolfe Roofing & Sheet Metal.
After two days of mediation with former Appellate Division Judge John Keefe of the Keefe Law Firm in Red Bank, the parties reached a settlement. Its terms call for CNA, insurance carrier for Wolfe Roofing & Sheet Metal, to pay $4.81 million, and for Travelers, carrier for Blue Rock, to pay $812,500, according to Chamas.
CNA, which was also the workers’ compensation carrier for Wolfe Roofing, agreed to waive the $1.8 million workers compensation lien. In addition, Smith will be required to establish a set-aside Medicare account for $478,000, he said.
Smith also was represented by William Bock, of Gill & Chamas.
Elizabeth Sullivan LLC was represented by Joseph Gaul of Gaul, Barratta & Rosello in Cedar Knolls; Blue Rock, by William Mergner of Leary, Bride, Tinker & Moran in Cedar Knolls; and Wolfe Roofing, by Jack Farrell and Jonathan Weiss of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia.
The defense lawyers did not return calls about the case.
— Charles Toutant
$2.25M for Injured Delivery Worker
Lopez v. Ryder Truck Rental: A delivery worker injured in a fall when his truck’s liftgate malfunctioned settled his Essex County suit on Aug. 14 for $2.25 million.
On July 15, 2013, plaintiff Fausto Lopez, an employee of W.B. Mason Inc., was delivering copier paper to an office building in West Orange. While he was standing on a liftgate at the rear of the truck with the pallet of paper, lowering the liftgate to ground level, the liftgate’s hinges broke, causing the platform to fall, and Lopez to fall to the asphalt, onto his back, said his lawyer, John Ratkowitz of Ginarte Gallardo Gonzalez & Winograd in Newark.
The suit claimed that Ryder Truck Rental of Miami, which rented to the truck to W.B. Mason, failed to maintain the liftgate, in violation of a lease and service agreement between the two companies originally executed in 1991 and updated since.
Lopez sustained low back injuries that necessitated three surgeries, including a two-level compression and fusion at the lumbar level, Ratkowitz said, adding that Lopez, 55, went on light duty for a year but is now unable to work and is on Social Security disability.
The lift manufacturer was dismissed from the case on summary judgment, Ratkowitz noted.
Ryder Truck disputed liability and the extent of Lopez’s injuries, according to Ratkowitz.
The parties settled on the fifth day of trial before Superior Court Judge Deborah Gross-Quatrone in Essex County. The parties had gone through a lengthy jury selection process, as well as pretrial motions, and settled during opening remarks, Ratkowitz said.
Ryder Truck’s counsel, Walter Swayze III of Segal McCambridge in Philadelphia, didn’t return a call about the case.
Robert Baumgarten of Ginarte also represented Lopez.
— David Gialanella
$300K Verdict in Atlantic County
Calhoun v. Henderson: An Atlantic County jury on July 23 awarded $300,000 to a woman injured in a rear-end accident, though her recovery is capped at $80,000 because of a high-low agreement reached before trial.
According to the plaintiff’s attorney, on March 12, 2015, plaintiff Brenda Calhoun, 52, a human resources hearing officer, was rear-ended by another car in stop-and-go traffic on Highway 29, in Hamilton Township. She claimed neck injuries. Calhoun sued the other driver, Erin Henderson, alleging negligence. Liability was stipulated, and an expedited trial focused on damages.
Calhoun did not seek immediate medical treatment. Eight days after the accident, she saw her family physician with complaints of back and neck pain. She was referred to pain management, where she received three epidural injections of a steroid-based painkiller. An MRI had resulted in a diagnosis of herniations at cervical intervertebral discs C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7. She also treated with a chiropractor.
Counsel for Henderson contended that the collision was of low impact and therefore was not the cause of Calhoun’s claimed injuries. Instead, it was argued, her injuries were likely pre-existing and degenerative.
The parties negotiated a high-low agreement: Damages could not exceed $80,000, but had to equal or exceed $1,500.
After a one-day trial before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Christine Smith, the jury by a vote of 5-1 awarded Calhoun $300,000, which Smith molded to $80,000.
The plaintiff was represented by Robert A. Stacchini of Goldenberg, Mackler, Sayegh, Mintz, Pfeffer, Bonchi & Gill in Atlantic City.
Henderson was represented by Kathleen Drew of the Law Offices of Anthony P. Castellani in Marlton.
*Editor’s note: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel declined to contribute.
—From VerdictSearch reports