A Monmouth County jury awarded $5.3 million on Dec. 13 to a plaintiff injured in an SUV rollover, but she will get only $1.06 million because she was not using her seat belt.
Keila Cengiz was a passenger in the vehicle, driven by her husband Yucel Cengiz, on Dec. 9, 2006. In trying to move from the left to right lane on Route 9 south in Howell, Yucel did not see a car driven by Duong Tran, who moved to the shoulder in an attempt to avoid a crash. Yucel jerked to the left and lost control, as did Tran, causing the vehicles to collide, which sent Yucel’s SUV into a multiple rollover, says plaintiff attorney, James Maggs of Maggs & McDermott in Brielle.
Keila’s left leg was thrust through the shattered sun roof and crushed against the road as the SUV rolled, says Maggs. She suffered a massive degloving injury to the leg, an open transverse fracture to her thigh, comminuted fractures to her ankle and broken bones in her foot, as well as an instability in her shoulder that caused it to repeatedly pop out, says Maggs.
She spent five weeks at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune where, after rejecting a recommendation for amputation, she had about 20 surgeries to salvage the leg, reduce the pain in her ankle and correct the shoulder problem.
Now 40, she walks with a limp and her thigh is deformed from loss of muscle that was torn away.
The police report said Keila was not wearing her seat belt, and at trial before Superior Court Judge Linda Grasso Jones, two defense experts testified that if she had been, the injuries would not have occurred.
Keila had no countervailing expert witness and testified that she did not recall whether she used her seat belt but must not have been.
In Cengiz v. Cengiz, the jury found Keila 80 percent liable and no-caused Tran, leaving Yucel 20 percent liable.
Maggs says he will appeal because Yucel waived the seat-belt defense by not raising it in his original answer and he failed to preserve evidence by allowing the SUV to be sold for salvage and shipped overseas. His partner, John McDermott, was trial counsel.
Defense lawyers, Michael Marone of McElroy Deutsch Mulvaney & Carpenter of Morristown, for Yucel, and Brian Stanziano of Garvey Ballou & Rogalski in Toms River, for Tran, did not return a call.
— By Mary Pat Gallagher
$880,000 for Construction-Site Accident
Lupperger v. Abbott: A Cumberland County jury awarded $880,000 on Dec. 11 to a construction worker for injuries he claimed he suffered on the job, but his share will be $792,000 because he was found 10 percent at fault.
James Lupperger, now 50, was injured on March 15, 2008, while working as a concrete-pump operator at a home being built for Richard and Lois Abbott in Port Elizabeth, says one of Lupperger’s attorneys, Thomas Vesper of West Atlantic City’s Westmoreland Vesper & Quattrone.
Lupperger was climbing steps to the second floor when he moved to one side and fell 12 to 15 feet through an elevator shaft to a concrete floor below. Lupperger later said he did not realize the Abbotts were building an elevator in their home.
Lupperger suffered crushed vertebrae, a dislocated left rotator cuff and a cut left hip. The rotator cuff injuries required surgery and the Social Security Administration declared him 100 percent disabled, says Vesper, who tried the case with Dara Quattrone of the same firm.
At the time of the accident, Lupperger was employed by subcontractor R.E. Pierson Co. of Pilesgrove. He sued the Abbotts and general contractor Haffelfinger & Standeven Corp. of Leesburg, alleging violations of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations that require barriers around an open elevator shaft.
The jury found Haffelfinger & Standeven 50 percent liable, the Abbotts 40 percent liable and Lupperger 10 percent liable, which means the verdict will be reduced by $88,000 to $792,000. The award will also be offset by a $100,000 workers’ compensation lien.
Superior Court Judge Robert Maleson presided over the trial.
Haffelfinger & Standeven’s carrier, Penn National Ins. Co., retained Robert Kaplan of Margolis Edelstein in Mount Laurel, while the Abbotts’ carrier, Harleysville Ins. Co., retained Donald Bigley of Little, Search, Bigley, Baughman & Baratti in Mount Laurel. Kaplan declined to comment and Bigley did not return a call.
— By Michael Booth
$425,000 in Suit Against DYFS
Cruz v. N.J. Department of Children and Families: The mother of a 10-year-old boy beaten to death by her live-in companion accepted $425,000 to settle her claim that state officials failed to supervise the abuser.
The Department of Children and Families removed Jamarr Cruz of Camden from his home and placed him with his maternal grandmother in December 2007, after he was beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, Vincent Williams, according to one of the plaintiff attorneys, Richard Pompelio.
Williams was sentenced to a suspended period of incarceration, was placed on three years’ probation for the attack, and was required to attend anger- management classes, Pompelio says.
In November 2008, the department closed its file on the case, and Jamarr returned to live with his mother. On March 31, 2009, Jamarr died from blunt force trauma after another beating from Williams, who was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, Pompelio says.
The boy’s mother, Omayra Cruz, sued in Camden County Superior Court.
The parties settled in mid-September and the plaintiff received the money on Dec. 19.
The plaintiff attorneys, in addition to Richard Pompelio, are Paul Rizzo and Nicholas Pompelio, all of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum in Warren.
Deputy Attorney General Jill Deitch represented the state. Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, confirms the settlement.
— By Charles Toutant