CIVIL RIGHTS

$49,000 Settlement in Prisoner’s Death

Jackson v. County of Passaic, 09-cv-01134; U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh, Newark; July 13.

Facts & Allegations: On March 14, 2007, John E. Jackson was incarcerated at the Passaic County Jail when he reportedly became ill, ultimately dying as result of his illness.

His mother, Anita Jackson, brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of his estate for wrongful death, alleging he had complained to jail employees of his need for medical treatment, but had been ignored by corrections workers.

Because he was a federal prisoner incarcerated in Passaic County under a contract with the federal government, the U.S. Marshal’s Service was also named as a defendant.

The complaint asserted causes of action for negligent medical treatment, violations of the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and negligent hiring and supervision.

The complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages as well as counsel fees and costs.

Passaic County denied that Jackson’s rights had been violated and said that his pre-existing poor health mitigated against the likelihood of his survival.

The case settled for $49,000, funded by Passaic County.

Plaintiff Attorney: Nathaniel Davis, Newark.

Defense Attorney:Brian Tipton, Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, Phillipsburg.

This report is based on court documents and information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel declined to contribute.

MOTOR VEHICLE

Defense Verdict in Auto Accident

Sanchez v. Duenas-Sanchez, ESX-L-7160-10; Essex County Superior Court; Judge Sebastian Lombardi; Aug. 8.

Facts & Allegations: Roberto Sanchez claimed that the driver’s side of his automobile was struck on Route 3 in Rutherford Sept. 26, 2008, by Ulises Duenas-Sanchez, who allegedly lost control of his vehicle.

Sanchez sued Duenas-Sanchez, alleging negligence, and Delores Ramos, the vehicle owner, alleging vicarious liability. Sanchez’s wife joined in the action, asserting a per quod loss-of-consortium claim.

Liability was not disputed, and the case proceeded to trial on damages only, with the defense arguing that Sanchez was barred from recovering for bodily injuries because there was no objective medical evidence of permanent injury.

Sanchez reportedly first went to a doctor on Oct. 1, 2008, for back and neck pain, as well as an injury to his left knee, and underwent physical therapy.

An MRI of his left knee showed medial collateral ligament damage and a small-to-moderate suprapatellar bursal and joint effusion. An MRI of the lumbar spine showed bulging at L1-2 and L5-S1. An MRI of the cervical spine showed a herniated protrusion contacting the spinal cord at C5-6, and disc bulging at C3-4 and C6-7. An EMG was positive for radiculopathy at C5-C6 and bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome.

The defense’s orthopedic surgery expert testified that Sanchez apparently suffered neck and back sprains and strains in the accident, but that the injuries were not permanent. The expert contended that although Sanchez did have a carpel tunnel injury, it was not related to the accident.

Defense counsel also presented evidence that Sanchez had a prior cervical spine MRI in 2003 at the same levels attributed to the accident.

The jury found no permanent injury, resulting in a defense verdict of no cause of action.

Plaintiff Attorneys:Robert Hecht, Elizabeth; Peter Davis & Associates, Paterson.

Defense Attorney:Edward Rebenack, Rebenack Aronow Mascolo, New Brunswick.

Trial Details: trial length: 3 days; jury deliberations: 15 minutes; jury poll: 6-0.

Plaintiff Expert: Stanley Malkin, M.D., neurology, Paterson.

Defense Expert: Matthew Zornitzer, M.D., orthopedic surgery, West Orange.

Editor’s Note: This report is based on information from defense counsel. Plaintiff counsel declined to comment.

PREMISES LIABILITY

Defense Verdict in Fall on Patio

Mirovich v. Zagha, MID-L-1945-10; Middlesex County Superior Court; Judge Martin Kravarik; July 16.

Facts & Allegations: Elizabeth Mirovich allegedly fell at night on July 27, 2008, on an outdoor patio at the home of Morris and Judy Zagha in Ocean Township.

She was treated for a fractured skull, partial hearing loss and a closed head injury, which allegedly caused cognitive impairment.

Mirovich sued the Zaghas, alleging that her fall had been caused by the patio’s deteriorated condition, specifically, loose stones that resulted in a hazardous condition.

She also alleged that the lighting was not strong enough to allow her to observe the defects in the patio.

Subsequent to the incident, Mirovich was allegedly involved in an accident on a U.S. Airways flight in which a piece of luggage fell from an overhead bin and landed on her head. The airline was then brought into the action as an additional defendant; however, the claim was resolved on undisclosed terms.

The Zaghas alleged that their patio was not in a deteriorated condition, that the lighting was adequate and that Mirovich did not fall after slipping, but rather after she apparently passed out or fainted.

Defense counsel relied on the eyewitness testimony of Mirovich’s companion to support the contention that she fell due to fainting or a similar episode.

Mirovich responded that her date had a motive to protect the Zaghas, as they were close family friends. Plaintiff counsel presented testimony from Mirovich’s mother, who allegedly had spoken with the companion and been told by him that Mirovich had fallen after slipping.

Defense counsel attempted to rebut the damages claims through presentation of records from nonexpert treating doctors, which appeared to indicate that the cognitive impairments complained of likely pre-existed the incident.

The defense further relied on social media postings apparently made by Mirovich — including photos on Facebook that appeared to have been taken after the accident and seemed to depict Mirovich as healthy and carefree.

The jury rendered a defense verdict, finding that the Zaghas had not been negligent.

Plaintiff Attorney:Alan Landa, Lakewood.

Defense Attorneys:Michael Dolich, Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg, Marlton (for Judy Zagha, Morris Zagha); George Kolbe, New York, N.Y. (for US Airways Inc.).

Insurer: State Farm for the Zaghas.

Trial Details: trial length: 6 days; jury deliberations: 35 minutes; jury poll: 7-0; jury composition: 2 men, 5 women.

This report is based on information from defense counsel for the homeowners. Plaintiff counsel did not return calls, and defense counsel for the airline declined to comment.

EMPLOYMENT

Defense Verdict in Termination Case

Haas v. Parrish Sign Co., CUM-L-510-09; Cumberland County Superior Court; Judge Richard Geiger; July 26.

Facts & Allegations: In November 2010, John Haas reportedly was terminated from his sales and installation position at Parrish Sign Co. in Vineland because of a business slowdown.

Haas sued the company and its apparent principal for wrongful discharge, alleging that he had been unlawfully discriminated against on account of his having incurred neck injuries in a workplace incident, and later applying for workers’ compensation benefits.

He alleged that his termination was retaliation for filing the compensation claim.

In March and September, Haas reportedly had been involved in fights with another employee. Injuries suffered in the first altercation were said to have required neck surgery, including surgical implantation of a metal plate. After the second fight, he filed assault charges, which reportedly were later dismissed.

Having applied for workers’ compensation, Haas took a two-month, unpaid leave of absence beginning in September. When he was ready to return to work in November, he was told his job was eliminated.

The defense denied that any discrimination or retaliation had occurred, and claimed that Haas’s discharge had been based solely upon sound business judgment, and was within management’s prerogatives.

Haas’ suit sought compensatory damages for the loss of his job, as well as punitive and statutory damages for the humiliation and emotional distress he claimed he had suffered due to the allegedly discriminatory discharge from his employment.

The jury returned a defense verdict of no cause of action.

Plaintiff Attorney:Kevin Costello, Costello & Mains, Mount Laurel.

Defense Attorney: Jay Greenblatt, Greenblatt & Laube, Vineland.

Trial Details: trial length: 4 days; jury deliberations: 30 minutes; jury poll: 8-0.

This report is based on court records and on information from defense counsel. Plaintiff counsel did not return calls.

The cases that appear here are derived from VerdictSearch New Jersey, an affiliate of the New Jersey Law Journal. For more reports from VerdictSearch, or to request research, go to VerdictSearch.com or call 1-800-832-1900.