The City of Clifton agreed on Dec. 5 to a $2.6 million settlement in a Passaic County suit lodged by a bicyclist who was struck by a city sanitation truck, then blinded in one eye due to a complication from surgery.

According to attorneys in the case, Updegraph v. City of Clifton, Harry Updegraph, 46, was riding a bicycle on the right shoulder of Main Avenue in Clifton on April 15, 2015, when the sanitation truck passed him, then made a right turn in his path. Updegraph applied his brakes and attempted to turn to avoid the collision but was thrown forward and under the truck. He sustained scarring and fractures to the face, and fractures to the left shoulder and wrist. The loss of vision in his right eye is permanent.

Updegraph returned to work and did not suffer any short-term wage loss, but his vocational expert opined that the combined effect of his injuries would reduce his working life by seven years, at a cost of $742,000.

Updegraph sued Clifton and its driver, Omar Fernandez. The plaintiff contended that his blindness was the result of a surgical procedure that was necessitated by the original bicycle accident.

An accident reconstructionist for the plaintiff maintained that the truck driver was solely responsible for the accident. The defense maintained that Updegraph was in the act of passing the truck when the accident occurred. The defense reconstructionist determined that the plaintiff was solely at fault, adding that his failure to wear a bicycle helmet made the injuries worse.

The parties mediated with Mark Epstein, a former Superior Court judge now with Hoagland Longo Moran Dunst & Doukas in New Brunswick, said Louis DeVoto of Rossetti & DeVoto in Cherry Hill, who represented the plaintiff. The settlement was reached in discussion with Passaic County Superior Court Judge Randal Chiocca when the parties appeared for trial.

Harry Norton of Norton Murphy Sheehy & Corrubia in Woodland Park, representing Clifton, confirmed the settlement.

— Charles Toutant

Horse-riding Accident Nets $350K in Morris

McMahon v. North Jersey Equestrian Center: The family of a child who was thrown from a horse during a riding lesson and broke her hip settled her Morris County suit for $350,000 on Oct. 30.

According to plaintiffs’ counsel, on April 3, 2014, plaintiff Lyla McMahon, 6, was riding a horse at the North Jersey Equestrian Center, in Pompton Plains. Lyla had gone to the center to participate in a monitored riding lesson with Derek Drobenak, a riding instructor and a North Jersey Equestrian Center employee. Lyla was riding a horse named Babar, which weighed approximately 1,100 pounds, which is roughly an average weight for an adult horse. Lyla, who weighed 45 pounds, suffered from eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic digestive disorder that requires the surgical implantation of a tube through her nose into her esophagus.

In a riding ring, Lyla and Drobenak were practicing loping, which is the faster pace after a trot. Drobenak was holding a lunge line, which is a rope attached to the bridle, for about 15 minutes of the lesson while Lyla was loping; for the remaining 15 minutes of the lesson, Lyla loped with Babar without Drobenak holding the lunge line. The purpose of the lunge line is to assist with control if a rider cannot handle the horse.

Toward the end of the lesson, Lyla’s half of the ring became crowded. Her mother later asserted that the many people and horses, and Barbar’s contact with another horse, caused Babar to become spooked, nervous, and jittery. According to Lyla’s mother, Drobenak was about 10 feet away from Lyla and was not holding the lunge line. At that point, Babar took off. This prompted Lyla to become frightened and to lean forward and put her arms around the horse’s neck, which caused Babar to run faster. Babar ran around the ring for approximately 20 seconds before Lyla was thrown off. She was thrown into a concrete wall, cracked her riding helmet, and suffered a fractured hip.

Lyla was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a displaced fracture in the proximal left femur with mild valgus angulation of the fractured apex. She underwent an open reduction and percutaneous internal fixation by which screws were implanted.

Lyla was discharged days later and remained non-weight-bearing in the ensuing weeks. She eventually underwent a course of physical therapy, including exercise. Lyla complained of neurological discomfort in the form of color change and coldness of the skin around her left hip. This prompted surgical intervention, and on Sept. 19, 2014, she underwent removal of a screw. She treated with further physical therapy.

According to Lyla’s surgeon, she suffers from residual intoeing and rotational findings, such as femoral anteversion and internal tibia torsion. She is subject to the onset of arthritis in her 30s and 40s, and will suffer from gait abnormalities that will likely require additional surgical intervention.

Lyla further experienced anxiety from the accident. She said that she often feels pain in her leg and gets tired. She also has three pinhole scars and a long scar on her leg from the removal of the hardware. She sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Counsel for North Jersey Equestrian Center did not dispute Lyla’s injuries and treatment, according to plaintiffs counsel.

Lyla’s mother sued North Jersey Equestrian Center, alleging negligence. Lyla’s counsel argued that Drobenak was not aware of the other horses in the ring at the time of the accident. Drobenak testified that he was more focused on his lesson than knowing who else was in the ring. Lyla’s equine expert opined that North Jersey Equestrian Center failed to make reasonable or prudent efforts to determine if Lyla, a 6-year-old with special needs, was safely mounted on a suitable beginner-level horse while taking riding lessons. The facility also did not have an emergency plan in place for riders that might be injured while under the supervision of an instructor, the suit alleged. These acts or omissions on the part of the North Jersey Equestrian Center created an unsafe learning experience that caused/contributed to the accident, the expert concluded.

North Jersey Equestrian Center’s equine expert opined that the facility complied with industry best practices with regard to riding lessons and selection of horse used for Lyla’s riding lesson.

The parties settled for $350,000, prior to the scheduling of trial. North Jersey Equestrian Center had a $1 million insurance policy. The center was covered by Farm Family Casualty Insurance Co.

The plaintiffs were represented by Christopher L. Musmanno of Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost in Denville.

The center was represented by Virginia M. Barrett of Barrett Lazar in Maywood.

Editor’s Note: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.

— From VerdictSearch Reports