Two white corrections officers who claimed they were singled out for discipline and retaliation because of their race won a $6.855 million jury verdict on Sept. 6 in Mercer County in Healey v. Department of Corrections.
In 2005, Robert Healey, now 52, and Joseph Milutin, now 46, were assigned to the Stabilization and Reintegration Program in New Lisbon, a “boot camp” for teenage offenders, where they used exercise and lectures to control inmates in accordance with program guidelines.
But supervisor Derick Loury said their conduct was not sanctioned, and the associate administrator, Bettie Norris, after an investigation, lodged administrative charges for inmate abuse and conduct unbecoming public employees.
Healey and Milutin were transferred to the Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Bordentown. The charges were eventually dismissed by a hearing officer, but the men were kept at Wagner, where they have been alienated and work in positions where they seldom interact with fellow officers, says their lawyer, Gina Mendola Longarzo.
In their suit, filed under the Law Against Discrimination, they claimed they were subjected to harassment, threats and racially derogatory remarks by Loury and Norris, both of whom are black, and that their internal complaints were ignored.
The defense said the officers made up the harassment allegations and did not follow internal complaint procedures, according to Longarzo, who heads a firm in Chatham.
At trial before Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez Jr., the jury found the Department of Corrections intentionally created a hostile work environment and retaliated against them.
Healey was awarded $5,000 for past wages, $250,000 for pain and suffering, and $3 million in punitive damages. Milutin got $40,000 for past wages, $60,000 for future wages, $500,000 for pain and suffering, and $3 million in punitive damages.
Deputy Attorney General Ivo Becica represented the department. Division of Law Director Christopher Porrino says the state will appeal the verdict.
— By David Gialanella
$1.7M for Auto Accident
Fitzpatrick v. Mount Olive: The Township of Mount Olive agreed on Sept. 4 to pay $1.7 million to a Dover man injured in a collision with a police vehicle.
On Sept. 27, 2006, Barry Fitzpatrick, then 47, was struck from behind by the police car while stopped on Route 46 while waiting to turn left onto Wolfe Road, says his lawyer, Edward Capozzi of Seigel Capozzi in Ridgewood.
Officer Marianne Ficarra was going about 60 mph and the front of her car locked onto the rear of his, pushing it about 400 feet down the road before coming to a stop, Capozzi says.
Fitzpatrick, still recovering from a lumbar fusion from a 2005 crash and wearing a back brace, complained of back and neck pain, but X-rays taken at St. Clare’s Hospital emergency room showed the hardware had not been dislodged. The pain worsened, however, eventually requiring surgeries to remove the lower back hardware and to fuse his neck, at C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7. Fitzpatrick wore a device to stimulate bone growth and has had cervical, thoracic and lumbar injections for pain.
Fitzpatrick, unable to work from the prior accident, made no lost-wage claim in his suit, filed in Morris County Superior Court.
Defense lawyer Eric Harrison, of Methfessel & Werbel in Edison, confirms the settlement.
— By Mary Pat Gallagher
$900,000 for Auto Accident
Nogueira v. Farm Family Casualty Insurance Co.: A landscaper struck by a car while tending to roadway flower beds received $900,000 from his former employer’s insurer.
On July 2, 2008, Jose Nogueira, employed by VIP Contractors Inc. of Union, was standing between the median curb and the fog line on Route 70 in Cherry Hill when he was hit and thrown in the air. He landed on the car, shattering the windshield, then on the pavement. He suffered face and neck cuts; broke his left ankle, right shoulder, leg and ribs; and dislocated his left shoulder.
Now 61, Nogueira has undergone 10 surgeries but has been declared permanently disabled, says his lawyer, John Keefe Jr. of Red Bank’s Keefe Bartels.
USAA Casualty Ins. Co., the carrier for the car’s driver, Michael Wallenburg of Cherry Hill, settled with Nogueira for the $100,000 policy limit in March 2010.
Keefe then moved for underinsured motorist coverage from VIP Contractor’s liability carrier, Farm Family Casualty Ins. Co. The policy required disputes to be decided through binding arbitration.
A three-member arbitration panel made the award on June 1. Keefe received the settlement funds on June 29.
Farm Family retained Teresa Hanni, of the law office of Michael Dunn in Cherry Hill, to handle the arbitration. She confirms the amount of the award.
— By Michael Booth
$563,501 for Dog Bites
Akinsanya v. Acosta Industrial Services: A security guard allegedly mauled by dogs while on duty accepted $563,501 in his Union County suit on Aug. 24.
Samuel Akinsanya, now 43, of Newark, was patrolling an industrial building in Elizabeth on July 24, 2009, when he was attacked and bit multiple times by a pit bull and a Rottweiler, says one of his lawyers, Mountainside solo Francis Smith.
The dogs were owned by Jose Acosta, owner of Acosta Industrial Services, a building tenant. They were supposed to be kept in an enclosure but were running loose, Smith says.
Akinsanya, an employee of Securitas USA of Parsippany, suffered kidney damage, had significant scarring and keloid formations, and missed work for four months, Smith says.
He sued Acosta, his company and building owner Baker Center Development. The parties agreed to settle for the amount awarded by the court-ordered arbitrator — $478,976 from Acosta and his company and $85,525 from Baker Center Development.
Westfield solo Robert Stahl also represented Akinsanya in the case.
Michael Della Rovere of O’Toole & Couch in Whippany, representing Acosta and his business, confirms the amount his clients are paying.
Kevin London, of William Staehle‘s law office in Morristown, representing Baker Center Development, did not return a call.
— By Charles Toutant