An Essex County jury awarded nearly $3.6 million on Tuesday to a driver injured when the roof of his Nissan Altima failed to withstand the impact of a flying tire that came loose from a truck. Another $500,000, paid in a settlement with the truck driver, brings the total recovery in Clanton v. Nissan North America to $4 million.
On July 17, 2006, Larry Clanton, then 45, was headed south on the Garden State Parkway when a 73-pound tire and tire assembly flew off a northbound truck and hit his roof header, says his lawyer, Cynthia Walters of Budd Larner in Short Hills.
The roof detached from its vertical side rails and pressed upon his head, breaking neck bones and leaving him permanently disabled, Walters says.
Chronic spasms interfere with sleep and create discomfort, his upper body strength is limited, his fingers curl, and he lacks sexual function and complete bowel control, she adds.
The alleged design defect was Nissan’s failure to attach the roof header in 2002 to 2006 Altima models to pillars on the sides, which allegedly would have enabled it to withstand the impact and disperse its force.
At trial before Superior Court Judge James Rothschild Jr., Nissan argued that no car design could have withstood the impact and claimed Clanton and truck driver Anthony Levito were speeding, says Walters.
The jury found Clanton suffered damages of $4,200,446, comprised of $324,470 in past lost wages, $572,976 in future lost wages, $1 million for future medical costs and $2,303,000 in noneconomic damages.
Fault was allocated 85 percent to Nissan, amounting to just under $3.6 million, and 15 percent to Levito, who had settled for his $500,000 policy limit. The net recovery was $4,070,379.
Defense lawyer Gerard Cedrone, of Lavin O’Neil, Ricci, Cedrone & DiSpio in Philadelphia, deferred to Nissan spokesman Steven Yaeger, who says the company did not cause the accident and is exploring its options.
Walters was assisted by Justin Van Dyke at the same firm.
— By Mary Pat Gallagher
$700,000 in Railroad Injury Suit
Johnson v. T. Glennon Inc.: A railroad construction worker injured while doing track repairs accepted $700,000 on March 6 to settle claims against a machine manufacturer.
On Oct. 31, 2006, in Mansfield, Charles Johnson, then 36, was working with a tamping machine, which rides on track rails and replaces ties. The brakes failed and the six-ton machine ran over his legs, according to the Middlesex County suit.
Johnson had 16 surgeries, developed deep-vein thrombosis and is unable to work, according to his lawyer, Robert Gold of Gold, Albanese & Barletti in Morristown.
Johnson claimed that his employer, T. Glennon of Hillsborough, failed to maintain the machine. The employer settled for $5 million on Feb. 6 [see Suits & Deals, Feb. 18].
Johnson also asserted a product-liability claim against manufacturer Plasser American Corp., of Chesapeake, Va., contending the machine lacked backup braking and alarm systems.
After mediation with former Superior Court Judge Mark Epstein, of counsel with Hoagland Longo Moran Dunst & Doukas in New Brunswick, Plasser, insured by The Hartford, agreed to pay $700,000.
Plasser’s lawyer, Thomas Mulcahy of Purcell Mulcahy O’Neill & Hawkins in Bedminster, says he intended to assert that a poorly maintained machine would malfunction regardless of its braking systems, but Plasser settled to avoid exposure, since the jury would not have been allowed to apportion fault to T. Glennon.
— By David Gialanella
$500,000 in Assault Suit
Jung v. Kim: A Bergen County judge awarded $503,473 on Jan. 24 to a woman claiming physical and sexual assault at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
Na Young Jung alleged that in September 2010, while she was visiting Sung Kim at his West New York apartment, he punched her in the face multiple times, causing bruises and scars, and also digitally penetrated her.
Kim pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual contact and aggravated sexual assault but left the country before sentencing, according to plaintiff lawyer Michael Mildner of Lesnevich & Marzano-Lesnevich in Hackensack.
Kim’s lawyer, Palisades Park solo Edward Feldman, filed a counterclaim accusing Jung of harassment. After Kim’s disappearance, Judge Rachelle Harz struck his answer for failure to respond to discovery, and after a proof hearing, awarded Jung $500,000 for pain and suffering and $3,473 for medical expenses. Feldman confirms the award.
— By Charles Toutant
No Cause on Sexual-Harassment Claim
Griffin v. East Orange: An Essex County jury returned a no-cause verdict on March 14 in a suit by three East Orange employees who alleged sexual harassment and retaliation at work.
Clerk-typist Tonique Griffin and complaint investigator Virginia Best each claimed Obed Prinvil, director of the city’s Department of Property Maintenance, kissed them. Typist Rosalyn Walker said Prinvil tried to kiss her. The plaintiffs alleged that the city did not stop the harassment and that they suffered retaliation.
Dina Mastellone, an attorney at Newark’s Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster hired by the city to investigate the complaints, said in her report that it was "more likely than not" that Prinvil acted inappropriately with Griffin and Best, but not with Walker. He was suspended without pay for three days and ordered to undergo harassment training.
Plaintiff lawyer Charles Cohen, who runs a firm in Verona, says his clients will appeal.
Prinvil, former city administrator Reginald Lewis and human resources director Claude Craig were dismissed as defendants before the trial, presided over by Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena.
— By Michael Booth