In Dickens v. Irvington Board of Education, an Essex County jury awarded $8 million on Sept. 18 in the case of a middle school student whose left arm was seriously injured when she tripped during gym class. But the jury’s apportionment of 25 percent comparative liability to the plaintiff brought her recovery to $6 million.
Destinee Dickens, who was then an eighth grade student at Union Avenue Middle School in Irvington, was injured on Oct. 4, 2011, when her gym class was being led along a paved pathway behind the school to an athletic field. A wire cable ran across the pathway, suspended between posts on either side, purportedly to prevent vehicles from going onto the athletic fields, said Dickens’ attorney, Gregg Alan Stone. Some students walked around the wire barrier, and others jumped over it, Stone said. The wire was about 18 inches off the ground at its lowest point, and Destinee tried to jump over it, but her right shoe got caught, Stone said.
She fractured her left arm and elbow, requiring three operations, and she has developed an neurological problem causing numbness and tingling, Stone said. Now 19, she has developed arthritis in her elbow and is unable to fully extend her left arm. A doctor testified at trial that the condition of her arm would get progressively worse, according to Stone.
The location where the wire cable was located is owned by the Township of Irvington but is under the control of the Irvington Board of Education, Stone said. Dickens’ suit named the township as a defendant, but it was dismissed on summary judgment.
Her suit also named Derek Strong, the gym teacher, as a defendant. Strong testified that he complained to other teachers and the assistant principal that the wire posed a hazard, and said he was told the school had to weigh the safety of students against the potential for vehicles to drive on athletic fields, according to Stone, of Kirsch, Gelband and Stone in Newark, who was assisted by Ronald Morgan.
After a five-day trial before Superior Court Judge Stephanie Mitterhoff, the jury awarded $8 million, found no liability on the part of Strong, and apportioned 75 percent of liability to the school district and 25 percent to Dickens, Stone said.
The school district’s lawyer, Ronald Hunt of Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley in Newark, did not respond to a request for comment.
$750K For Sidewalk Fall in Ocean
Donovan v. Douglas Development: A Toms River man is to receive $750,000 in his Ocean County suit as compensation for injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk in front of a new commercial building.
Plaintiff Thomas Donovan, now 56, agreed to the settlement on Sept. 15 with the Hartford Insurance Co., the carrier for defendant Douglas Development, and Kinsale Insurance Co., the carrier for defendant Hemingway’s restaurant in Seaside Heights, said Donovan’s lawyer, Michael Cahill.
Donovan was injured on Feb. 16, 2014, after he and his wife left Hemingway’s at around 9:20 p.m., said Cahill, of Rosenberg, Kirby, Cahill, Stankowitz and Richardson in Toms River.
The lawsuit claimed Donovan was walking in front of a Douglas Development commercial building and slipped because the company had failed to remove snow and ice that had accumulated in front of the building.
Donovan sustained a broken skull and brain injuries that resulted in a permanent loss of smell and most of his sense of taste, Cahill said. He also suffers from memory loss and mood changes, Cahill said.
A defense expert opined that Donovan’s blood-alcohol content was at .13 percent at the time of the accident, but Douglas Development could not show that Hemingway’s knowingly served an intoxicated patron, Cahill said.
The case settled after mediation with retired Superior Court Judge James Courtney Jr., who heads a mediation firm in Toms River, Cahill said.
Hartford agreed to contribute $745,000 to the settlement, and Kinsale, $5,000, Cahill said.
Hartford retained Michael Lynch of the East Windsor offices of Linda Baumann, to represent Douglas. He did not return a call seeking comment.
Kinsale retained Robin McGrath of Philadelphia’s Sweeney & Sheehan to represent Hemingway’s. She confirmed her client’s amount of the settlement.
Essex Dog Bite Case Settles for $400K
Montanez v. Edone: A man bit while installing an invisible dog fence on a residential property was paid a $400,000 settlement in his Essex County suit on Sept. 22.
In October 2015, Humberto Montanez, an employee of the Canine Fence Co., was at the Ramsey home of John Edone, and had just installed the fence, according to Montanez’s lawyer, Adam Epstein of Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman in Roseland.
Montanez was attempting to train the dog—Apollo, a mixed-breed of moderate size—to acclimate it to the new fence, and, at the instruction of Edone, was in the process of handing a treat to Apollo, who was on a leash held by Edone. Apollo bit Montanez’s right hand and held it in his mouth for several seconds before releasing it, according to Epstein.
Montanez, currently 30, lost skin from the back of his right, dominant hand, necessitating plastic surgery using skin grafts from his thigh, Epstein said. Montanez has full use of the hand, but has scarring, numbness and tightness, Epstein said.
The suit asserted a strict liability claim under the dog bite statute, alleging that Edone had control and custody of Apollo when the dog bit. The defense contended that a dog bite was a normal risk of Montanez’s employment, though Superior Court Judge Vicki Citrino rejected that position, and last January granted Montanez summary judgment on liability, according to Epstein.
The parties settled on Aug. 23.
Edone, insured by Allstate, was represented by Jill Carlson of the law office of Pamela Hargrove in Cranford. Carlson didn’t return a call about the case.