Credit: VILevi/Shutterstock.com

A woman who suffered spinal injuries after her car was struck in a rear-end accident agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in her Middlesex County suit, Pittman v. Collins, on Jan. 18.

Alma Pittman was stopped at a stop sign on Montague Avenue at the intersection with Green Street in Woodbridge on Aug. 25, 2015, when her car was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by James Collins. Collins was an employee of the Cerebral Palsy Association and was driving a vehicle owned by the association.

The crash left Pittman with severe, radiating pain at L5-S1 and aggravated a past spinal fusion at L4-L5, the suit claimed. She underwent a new fusion operation, in which the hardware from the prior fusion was removed and new hardware implanted at L4-L5 and L5-S1, according to her attorney, Nicholas Leonardis of Stathis & Leonardis in Edison. She also exhibited age-related degeneration of the spine, he said.

The case had preceded through discovery and was scheduled for a December 2018 trial. Medical experts for the plaintiffs said Pittman’s prior back injuries were aggravated and made significantly worse as a result of the crash, but defense experts took the position that MRIs after the crash showed the same findings as those before it, according to Leonardis.

The defense claimed Pittman’s injuries and her need for surgery were the result of her prior accident and degeneration, and not the collision that is the focus of the suit, he said.

Pittman returned to work after the prior crash, which was in 2013, but was unable to do so after the latest crash, Leonardis said.

The suit claimed $300,000 in medical expenses and lost wages.

The parties settled Jan. 18

The lawyer for Collins and the Cerebral Palsy Association, Timothy Haggerty of Stephen Gertler‘s office in Wall, declined to comment on the case.

— Charles Toutant

No-Cause in Hunterdon County

Reichert v. Britt: A Hunterdon County jury on Dec. 6, 2018, issued a defense verdict in an under-insured-motorist case against GEICO by a policyholder who had been involved in an auto accident.

According to counsel for defendant Government Employees Insurance Co., on Oct. 1, 2014, plaintiff James Reichert, 54, a salesperson of industrial equipment, was stopped in traffic on Route 202 in Raritan when his sedan was rear-ended by a car. He claimed permanent spinal injuries. Reichert sued the driver, Sheri Britt, alleging that she was negligent in the operation of a vehicle. Britt had a $15,000 insurance policy; as a result, Reichert sued his carrier, GEICO, seeking to recover his $300,000 under-insured-motorist policy. The defendants stipulated to liability, and the case was tried on the issues of causation and damages.

For two years, Reichert regularly treated with spinal manipulation, massage and exercise; at least 94 chiropractic sessions; and physical therapy. Reichert underwent MRIs and was diagnosed with herniations at the cervical, thoracic and lumbar levels. Reichert testified that he suffers ongoing neck and back pain, which limits his activities of daily living.

Reichert’s expert in orthopedic surgery opined that the accident caused his herniations and necessitated extensive treatment. The expert determined that Reichert suffered permanent spinal injuries, and stated that Reichert would likely need to undergo cervical and lumbar fusions in the future. The defense’s expert in orthopedic surgery, who examined Reichert, testified that his MRIs showed degenerative findings in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Additionally, there were no findings on Reichert’s physical exam. The expert concluded that there was no objective evidence of any permanent injury to Reichert, and that he had only suffered temporary sprains.

After a three-day trial before Hunterdon County Superior Court Judge Michael F. O’Neill, the seven-member jury unanimously rendered a defense verdict. It found that the defendants’ negligence was not a factual cause of injury to Reichert.

GEICO was represented by Darren C. Kayal of Rudolph & Kayal in Manasquan; Britt, by Brittany N. Edgerley-Dallal of the Law Offices of Robert A. Raskas in Piscataway Township; and Reichert, by Joseph W. Gable and Deborah S. Dunn of Stark & Stark.

*Editor’s Comment: This report is based on information that was provided by Government Employees Insurance’s counsel. Plaintiff’s counsel and Britt’s counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.

— Adapted from VerdictSearch reports