Verge v. Ocean Mental Health Services: An Essex County judge gave approval on October 27 to a $1.5 million settlement with the estate of a woman who died after she was attacked by her roommate in a residence for people with mental illness.

Victoria Verge, 61, died on October 18, 2012, a week after she was attacked at a supportive housing facility operated by Ocean Mental Health Services. A suit was brought against the operator of the facility and a doctor who treated her after her injury.

Verge, who suffered from mental illness, had lived by herself in a two-bedroom apartment for about a year when the agency assigned her a roommate, Patricia Kelly, who had a history of violent behavior, said Andrew Mitnick of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig in Philadelphia. He worked on the case along with Roberta Pichini of the same firm.

On October 15, the first night that Kelly spent at the new apartment, Verge was severely beaten and found bleeding heavily. Verge was admitted to Community Medical Center in Toms River, where she was released after three days. A few hours after her discharge, Verge collapsed and became unresponsive, and she later died.

Physician Catherine Forrester made the decision to discharge Verge in spite of an abnormally low blood pressure and a body temperature bordering on hypothermia, according to Mitnick.

Kelly was known to OMHS because she attacked a staff member with a knife three years earlier, said Mitnick. That incident ended in a decision that Kelly was barred from OMHS facilities, but the decision was inexplicably reversed and a decision was made that the patient could be placed with Verge and did not need supervision, Mitnick said.

Verge’s estate filed a suit claiming OMHS failed to properly assess the patient for risk, and that Forrester failed to act on her low blood pressure and temperature.

OMHS agreed to settle for $1.15 million and Forrester for $350,000 on August 23.

Superior Court Judge Dennis Carey III approved the settlement on October 27, including the apportionment of 65 percent of the payout to the survival action, which is paid to Verge’s estate, and 35 percent to the wrongful death claim, which is split between her two sons.

Thomas Lehayne of Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas in New Brunswick, representing OMHS, and Julia Klubenspies of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin in Roseland, who represented Forrester, did not return a reporter’s calls about the case.

— Charles Toutant

$1.3M in Bergen County Auto Case

Smith-Leone v. Sidoti: A woman who claims a 2014 rear-end accident has left her with ongoing pain settled her Bergen County suit Nov. 7 for $1.3 million.

On June 1, 2014, Miriam Smith-Leone, then 45, was in her car on Valley Brook Avenue in Lyndhurst, stopped and waiting to turn left into a parking lot. While she was stopped, another motorist approaching from behind in his car, Braden Sidoti, failed to stop and struck her vehicle, according to her lawyer, Mark McBratney of Seigel Law in Ridgewood.

Smith-Leone sustained a one-level disc herniation at the cervical level, which for six months was treated with chiropractic visits and epidural injections, but which ultimately required a fusion procedure, McBratney said.

She is not physically limited and is able to work, but experiences ongoing pain, he said.

The defense contended that Smith-Leone’s condition was degenerative and not attributable to the accident, according to McBratney.

The parties settled during mediation with Daniel Mecca of the Mecca Law Firm in Paramus, a former Bergen County Superior Court judge. The matter had been set for trial in mid-November, McBratney noted.

Sidoti’s primary carrier, GEICO, agreed to pay $500,000, while his excess carrier, Nationwide, agreed to pay $800,000, according to McBratney.

Sidoti was represented by James C. Dowden of Eric H. Bennett‘s Hackensack firm. Dowden didn’t return a call about the case.

— David Gialanella

$700,000 for Auto Accident

A Northvale woman will receive $700,000 as compensation for injuries she sustained when her car was struck by another.

Plaintiff Rachel Drake, now 40, agreed to the settlement with Selective Insurance Co., the carrier for defendant Victor Andrei of Virginia, on Oct. 26, said Drake’s attorney, William Greenberg.

Drake, an attorney, was injured on Feb. 25, 2012, as she was entering the parking lot of the building where she worked at the time, on Main Street in West Orange, said Greenberg, of Greenberg Minasian in West Orange.

Drake was attempting to make a left turn into the parking lot when her car was struck  from behind by Andrei’s, Greenberg said.

Drake sustained multiple neck, back and shoulder injuries, including herniations, that required disc fusions and the insertion of hardware.

The lawsuit, filed in Bergen County, had not yet been assigned to a judge, Greenberg said.

Selective retained Jill Flynn, of the East Hanover office of Zirulnik Sherlock & DeMille. She did not return a telephone call.

— Michael Booth