A Monmouth County jury awarded $8.5 million on January 17 in a medical malpractice suit, Dancyger v. Kocsis, over unnecessary thyroid surgery.

Rebecca Dancyger, then 18, saw general surgeon Cynthia Kocsis in August 2013 after a complex cystic mass was found on her left thyroid lobe. Her primary care doctor and radiologist recommended fine needle aspiration of the mass. But Kocsis instead performed surgery after convincing Dancyger and her mother that the mass was likely cancer, said plaintiff lawyer Paul da Costa.

Kocsis planned to remove the left thyroid lobe and send it for pathological review. If the left lobe was positive for cancer, the plan was to remove the right lobe as well, da Costa said. But Kocsis instead ended up removing the entire thyroid lobe, which turned out to be benign, da Costa said.

Kocsis claimed she removed the entire thyroid because the right lobe was covered with multiple blue dome cysts, but tests showed there were no cysts on the right lobe, and neither lobe was cancerous, according to da Costa.

The suit claimed that the plaintiff would not need surgery at all if the doctor had performed the needle aspiration tests, but Kocsis asserted that the client was deathly afraid of needles and refused to undergo a biopsy. Further, the physician said the patient and her mother simply wanted to have the surgery, and did not want to bother with a biopsy, da Costa said.

Dancyger claimed she suffered vocal cord paralysis with loss of voice for two months after the surgery, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, which resolved after one year, and permanent anxiety disorder.  She also requires permanent hormone replacement medication, according to the suit.

The jury returned the $8.5 million verdict after a one-week trial before Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer.

Da Costa was assisted at trial by Daniel Devinney. Both are with Snyder Sarno D’Aniello Maceri & da Costa in Roseland.

Kocsis was represented by Thomas Heavey of Grossman, Heavey & Halpin in Brick, who did not return a call about the case.

— Charles Toutant

$850K for Rear-End Crash

Fazio v. DeSantis: A couple whose car was struck from behind on the New Jersey Turnpike settled their Bergen County suit on Jan. 11 for $850,000, though product liability claims against the automaker remain.

In January 2015, Joseph and Marilyn Fazio of New Milford were headed southbound near exit 7, riding in the middle lane, when their car suddenly lost power and decelerated, after which another southbound motorist, Christopher DeSantis of Marlton, struck them from behind, according to plaintiff lawyer Barry D. Epstein of the Epstein Law Firm in Rochelle Park.

DeSantis, employed by Nobel Systems Inc., owned the vehicle but was on the job at the time of the accident. The impact resulted in a subdural hematoma, transverse cervical vertebrae fractures and rib fractures for Joseph, who is currently 60, and bruising for Marilyn, who is currently 62, Epstein said. Joseph underwent a spinal fusion procedure with implantation of hardware, and both husband and wife have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

The suit claimed the Fazio vehicle, a recently leased Mercedes-Benz E350, contained a fuel system defect that caused it to decelerate from 65 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour on the turnpike, but it also claimed that DeSantis was negligent in failing to avoid the collision. Nobel Systems also was named because DeSantis was acting in the scope of his employment, Epstein said.

A trial date was approaching when the Fazios settled with DeSantis and Nobel Systems, with Nobel Systems agreeing to pay $455,000 and DeSantis agreeing to pay $395,000, according to Epstein, who noted that Nobel Systems was insured by Travelers, and DeSantis by Penn National. Of the settlement proceeds, Joseph is to receive $705,000, and Marilyn, $145,000, Epstein said.

Betsy Ramos of Capehart & Scatchard in Mount Laurel, for DeSantis, and Joseph Gaul of Gaul Baratta & Rosello in Cedar Knolls, for Nobel Systems, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The remaining claims against Mercedes-Benz USA are scheduled for trial Feb. 12 before Bergen County Superior Court Judge Rachelle Harz. The automaker is represented by Robert Hanlon Jr. of Goldberg Segalla in Princeton. He didn’t return a call inviting comment.

— David Gialanella

Defense Judgment in Jet-Ski Crash

Ruggiero v. Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A.: A trial in federal court in a case involving a jet ski accident ended with a judge dismissing products liability counts against the distributor on Jan. 12.

According to defense counsel, on June 30, 2012, plaintiff Angela Ruggiero, 28, a sales assistant, was riding on the back of a jet ski operated by her boyfriend in the Absecon Inlet, between Atlantic City and Brigantine Beach. A nearby boat passed through the inlet and created two- to three-foot waves, prompting Ruggiero’s boyfriend to accelerate in order to cross the waves. In doing so, Ruggiero fell off the jet ski and into the water. She suffered a rectal tear.

She had a Hartmann’s procedure, also known as a proctosigmoidectomy, and later a second surgery to reverse a colostomy. In April 2017, she was hospitalized to treat a small bowel obstruction.  Ruggiero’s consulting general surgeon opined that her small bowel obstruction was the direct result of her rectal tear and surgeries. She was at risk for developing adhesions in her bowel, the physician concluded. Ruggiero claimed she experienced embarrassment, inconvenience and scarring.

Ruggiero sued Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A., the U.S. distributor of the jet ski, alleging a claim under the New Jersey Product Liability Act, for a failure to warn or instruct.

The jet ski, which was a 2009 Yamaha WaveRunner FZR, contains two warnings on the WaveRunner itself: on the glovebox and behind the seat above the boarding platform. The warnings caution users about the potential hazards of water-intrusion injuries and the need to wear a wetsuit bottom or clothing that provides equivalent protection.

At trial, Ruggiero’s counsel maintained that the warnings on the WaveRunner were inadequate, not because of the warnings’ content, but due to the lack of visibility to a passenger. Her counsel argued that, in addition to the existing warnings on the WaveRunner, a third warning should have been placed on the seat itself so that occupants would immediately see it upon boarding.

Yamaha maintained that the warnings were sufficient, properly placed, and visible to all users, and in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard and industry standards.

On cross-examination, Ruggiero admitted she could see the warning labels on the WaveRunner, but she did not read them.

Yamaha maintained that Ruggiero’s small bowel obstruction was unrelated to her rectum tear, and was instead most likely the result of her pre-existing conditions, including hypothyroidism.

After a five-day trial, at the close of evidence, Yamaha made a Rule 50(a) motion to dismiss the case in its favor. U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle granted the motion, finding that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for Ruggiero upon her claim of lack of adequate warning under the New Jersey Products Liability Act.

Ruggiero was represented by Gary D. Ginsberg of Ginsberg & O’Connor in Mount Laurel.

Yamaha was represented by Richard A. Mueller of Thompson Coburn in St. Louis and Robert A. Assuncao of Ansa Assuncao in East Brunswick.

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

— VerdictSearch Reports