In Vargas vs. Pandora Travel, a New York woman has received $1.414 million as compensation for back injuries she sustained when the car in which she was riding was struck by a bus.

Plaintiff Ruth Vargas, now 49, received the bulk of her settlement funds from the defendants on Nov. 7, said her attorneys, Richard LaBarbiera and Joseph LaBarbiera of LaBarbiera & Martinez in North Bergen.

Vargas was injured on Feb. 22, 2014. She was a passenger in a car driven by Margarita Disla of the Bronx, the lawyers said. Disla was in one of two left turn lanes on Kelby Street in Fort Lee, preparing to turn onto Fletcher Avenue.

A tour bus owned by Pandora Travel of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and driven by an employee, Ming Quang, was in the other left turn lane, and as the two vehicles were turning, they collided, the lawyers said.

As a result of the accident, Vargas sustained injuries to her cervical and lumbar discs that required fusion, the suit claimed.

Vargas filed a lawsuit in Bergen County Superior Court against Pandora, Quang and Disla.

Pandora’s carrier, Travelers Insurance Co., paid $1.399 million  toward the settlement. Disla’s carrier, GEICO, paid $15,000, according to the lawyers.

Travelers retained Cynthia Birkitt of the law office of William Staehle in Morristown, while GEICO retained Bilial Jaloudi of the law office of Eric Bennett in Hackensack. Birkitt declined to comment. Jaloudi could not be reached.

The case settled on Oct.5 after mediation with retired Bergen County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Doyne, now with Ferro Labella & Zucker in Hackensack.

— Michael Booth

Restaurant Patron’s Poisoning Case Nets $750K

Washart v. McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Resturants Inc.: An Atlantic County jury on Sept. 15 awarded $750,000 to a restaurant patron who claimed he sustained severe internal burns from ingesting beer that contained harsh detergent.

According to attorneys involved in the case, on Nov. 6, 2012, plaintiff Richard Washart, 53, a retired police officer, patronized McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant in an Atlantic City casino. He ordered a beer on tap. After taking a swallow from the glass, he immediately felt burning pain in his mouth and throat. He ran to the bathroom, where he began violently vomiting. He attempted to drink water from a faucet but was unable to, because of the pain in his mouth and throat. He went home, where he began vomiting blood, then went to an emergency room, and he was diagnosed with severe burns to the esophagus and stomach, caused by a caustic cleaning solution.

Washart sustained severe burns to the esophagus and stomach and was treated at an emergency room. He had consumed a powerful cleanser used to clean the beer-dispensing line. Washart remained in a hospital for one week. His injury resulted in the erosion of about 25 percent of his stomach lining, and a burned esophagus. Washart said he continues to receive regular treatment for internal injuries. During the past five years, he has become increasingly fearful of contracting stomach cancer or cancer of the esophagus, which has caused emotional distress. He worries he may not live to see his daughter grow up. His wife brought a claim for loss of consortium.

Washart sued McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. and the company that it had contracted with to maintain the beer pipes, Kramer Beverage Co. He also sued the companies that supplied and distributed the beer, but they were dismissed prior to trial.

Counsel for Washart, relying on the New Jersey Product Liability Act and then the New Jersey Food Safety Act, alleged that the restaurant had distributed and sold a defective product.

Counsel further maintained, with support from a beverage-industry expert, that Kramer Beverage was negligent by failing to purge the toxic cleaning solution from the pipeline from which the beer was poured.

The expert opined that the company failed to clean the beer lines at the proper intervals and failed to use required testing materials, including pH chemical test strips.

McCormick & Schmick’s denied negligence and blamed Kramer Beverage. The restaurant argued that the only way a caustic material could have gotten into the pipe was if Kramer Beverage had negligently cleaned the pipe. A restaurant manager testified that on the day of the incident, a Kramer employee had told him that he had cleaned the pipes. In addition, McCormick & Schmick’s pointed out that no other person who drank tap beer on that day had experienced any health issues.

Kramer Beverage denied negligence, stating that none of its employees had performed cleaning duties at the restaurant on the day of the incident.

The defendants did not actively dispute Washart’s injuries.

After a seven-day trial before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge James P. Savio and four hours of deliberation, the jury found that McCormick & Schmick and Kramer Beverage were equally liable for Washart’s injuries, and awarded Washart damages of $750,000. The jury determined that the restaurant had violated the New Jersey Food and Drug Act, and that Kramer Beverage was negligent in cleaning the pipelines. The award consisted of $650,000 for pain and suffering and $100,000 for emotional distress.

The plaintiffs were represented by Paul R. D’Amato, Stephen M. Van Natten and Kasi M. Giffordof the D’Amato Law Firm in Egg Harbor Township.

Kramer Beverage was represented by Robert N. Paessler of McMahon, Martine & Gallagher in Trenton.

McCormick & Schmick’s was represented by George C. Godfrey III of Yankwitt in Atlantic City.

Editor’s Note: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ counsel and by defense counsel for McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. Counsel for Kramer Beverage Co. and Kramer Beverage Co. LLC did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.

— VerdictSearch Reports