An Essex County jury awarded $1.2 million on Oct. 26 to a high school student who sustained a severed nerve in her left leg during surgery to remove a bone growth.

The suit claimed orthopedic surgeon Steven Robbins of the Center for Orthopedics in West Orange made the error while removing a bone growth for a biopsy on Samantha Alpert, now 22.

After the operation, Alpert attended her senior prom and her high school graduation in a wheelchair, and was unable to continue playing on the school tennis team, where she had been an all-state player, said her lawyer, Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice in Roseland. During surgery, the doctor cut halfway through her sathenous nerve, and she experiences  numbness, pain and tingling down her left leg from the knee to the ankle, the suit claimed. She can walk, but does not run or jog.

The suit asserted that the chance that the bone growth was cancerous was very slight, given the patient’s age, but the defense countered that there was reason to believe the growth might be cancerous, Nagel said.

Nagel said he offered to settle the case before trial for the doctor’s $1 million policy limit, but Robbins and the Center for Orthopedics declined.

After a two-week trial before Superior Court Judge Annette Scoca, the jury found Robbins was negligent for performing unnecessary surgery and for failing to obtain informed consent from the patient and her parents. The jury awarded the plaintiff  $1.2 million.

Nagel, who was assisted at trial by Susan Connors of his firm, said he would petition the court for fees of roughly $300,000 under the offer of judgment rule.

Louis John Dughi Jr. of Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski in Cranford, who represented the doctor and the Center for Orthopedics, did not return a call about the case.

— Charles Toutant

Somerset County Auto Case Settles for $1 Million

A man who claimed the injuries he sustained in a rear-end accident aggravated his neuromuscular disorder settled his Somerset Count suit Nov. 2 for $1 million.

In October 2015, Carl Foerster, then 69, was riding in the front seat of a vehicle driven by his wife around mile marker 85.6 of the Garden State Parkway south, in dense traffic, according to his attorney, Richard Brockway of Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan in Scotch Plains.

The vehicle slowed, and Foerster, who was wearing a seat belt, leaned forward to retrieve an item from the floor of the vehicle, when another motorist, Matthew G. Tietjen of Vineland, a sales representative for GNC who was driving a company vehicle on a sales call, struck the vehicle from behind. Foerster’s head and neck struck the dashboard, Brockway said.

Tietjen pleaded guilty to careless driving, with a civil reservation, Brockway noted.

Foerster was hospitalized with neck pain and tingling in his fingers, and later transferred for a neurological examination with weakness and loss of control of his right arm and other symptoms. He was diagnosed with spinal cord compression at the cervical level, a fracture at the thoracic level, and a cervical nerve root and ligament injury at the cervical level, as well as other injuries, according to Brockway. Foerster underwent a multi-level laminectomy and implantation of hardware at the cervical level, and contracted a MRSA infection and aspiration pneumonia, Brockway said. Foerster underwent inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, as well as home care.

Foerster previously had suffered from myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder, but claimed his symptoms had been mininal until the accident. The suit claimed that his condition deteriorated because of the accident, leading to muscle weakness and spinal curvature, according to Brockway.

Foerster was retired at the time of the accident, and didn’t claim lost wages.

The accident occurred in Ocean County, but the suit was filed in Somerset County, where Foerster lives. The defense disputed that Foerster’s condition was attributable to the accident, Brockway said.

The parties were through discovery and awaiting a trial date when they reached a settlement during mediation with Daniel Mecca, a retired Bergen County Superior Court judge with Mecca Law in Paramus.

Tietjen was represented by Mario Colitti of Viscomi & Lyons in Morristown. A call to the firm about the case was not returned.

— David Gialanella