Recent settlements and professional news in the first quarter of 2020, achieved by Starr Gern’s personal injury group.

May 2020

(L-R): Stewart J. Miller, Mayra P. Suazo-Aquino, John T. Brost, Amos Gern, Henry J. Cistrelli, Ana Rita Ferreira, David Wendel

***Recent settlements and professional news in the first quarter of 2020, achieved by Starr Gern’s personal injury group (**Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances**):

1) Amos Gern, Jonathan Lerner and Richard Welch recently settled a post-verdict default judgment in the US Bankruptcy Court for $625,000 for a 55-year old plant operations carpenter at a Bergen County hospital and his wife. The litigation resulted from a no-cause jury verdict in a 3-week medical malpractice trial in September of 2016. A post-verdict motion sought a default judgment against an off-duty co-employee who precipitated the original injury, prior to alleged negligent medical care, resulting in our client requiring a below-the-knee amputation, following a serious bout of infectious debridement that we alleged were never properly treated. Based on the trial proofs, the trial judge rendered a default judgment for $7.85M. The defaulted defendant then attempted to fraudulently declare bankruptcy, which we challenged vigorously, by asserting a lien on real property he owned. The settlement was negotiated with the assistance and approval of the bankruptcy judge assigned to the contested proceedings. We then had to negotiate the workers compensation lien that had accrued from our client’s extensive treatment and benefits, which had previously led to his being declared 100% disabled in the workers compensation court, and by Social Security Disability.

2) Amos Gern and Mayra Suazo-Aquino settled a wrongful death litigation involving the single 25-year old daughter of a legal secretary from Sussex County for $300,000. The decedent was operating her motorcycle in a local rural area, when a tractor-trailer attempted a U-turn through a highway divider, directly into her path, causing an impact which resulted in nearly instant death to the cyclist. At the time, the decedent was still attending county college but had plans to transfer to NJIT to secure an engineering degree. While true economic dependency was not claimed, the mother/executrix, a single parent, had an especially close relationship with her daughter.  Accordingly, we were able to seek an economic loss analysis for Lost Care and Companionship Services at $136,420, and for Lost Advice and Guidance Services at $116,361.  A serious problem faced in the case developed when the insurance carrier for the negligent tractor-trailer disclaimed coverage as the driver was not a listed operator under the declarations of its policy endorsement. A separate declaratory judgment action was brought in Federal Court by the insurance company for the owner of the trailer disclaiming coverage. An earlier effort at private mediation with a retired judge had failed. However, a settlement conference with the US Magistrate got the principals of the trailer company to offer the lion’s share of the settlement, from personal funds, since they had made contractual indemnification guarantees to their carrier.

3) Amos Gern and Mayra Suazo-Aquino settled a personal injury motor vehicle accident suit in Essex County for a 53-year old North Caldwell self-employed sports agent for $340,000. This represented the underlying GEICO policy limit of $250,000 for the defendant driver, plus an additional contribution of $90,000 from a Chubb umbrella policy. Our client sustained primarily a lower back injury in this June 2016 accident, requiring a lumbar discectomy, which aggravated his injuries from a previous 2013 accident. Our retained neurosurgeon expert opined that more surgery, including a lumbar fusion, would be likely, and would totally disable the client. Our client was prepared to proceed with such surgery, but was delayed by other medical considerations and the Covid-19 pandemic.

4) Amos Gern and Henry Cistrelli settled a premises liability case involving a negligent release of smoke during a fire drill at a commercial building in Parsippany where our employee was employed in May 2016. The total sum of $240,000 was recovered for our female 64-year old, Newark, NJ resident who was employed as a document compliance specialist with a cellphone company. The case was complicated by a $67,000 gross workers compensation lien, previously recovered by Henry Cistrelli for the client, for her permanent pulmonary damage and 6-month disability from work, which netted to about $44,000. This sum had to be paid back from her share of the settlement proceeds. The settlement was recovered from various defendants, including the alarm company manufacturer, its installer, the owner of the commercial building, and primarily, from the property manager of the building. The parties were assisted by a mediator, a retired Superior Court judge, who convinced the parties to settle, a few weeks before the resolution was ultimately reached.

5) $250,000 Middlesex County settlement secured by Amos Gern and Ana Rita Ferreira in a medical malpractice suit for a 53-year old blacksmith who sustained permanent damage to his right foot from a surgical procedure performed in July 2015, known as a “triple joint arthrodesis”. This surgical site never properly healed, and developed a non-union of the ankle. Our client required multiple corrective surgical procedures to fix a “rocker bottom deformity,” which left him totally disabled. Settlement was achieved after mediation, despite alleged patient non-compliance and improper post-surgical weight-bearing, which would have further jeopardized a positive jury verdict.

6) Amos Gern and Stewart Miller settled a 2017 motor vehicle accident lawsuit for a 34-year old Sparta resident, who injured multiple levels of his spine when rear-ended on I-80 West in Elmwood Park. The suit was settled with Liberty Mutual for $250,000, representing the full policy limits available.  After a long course of conservative treatment, including chiropractic care, acupuncture, and pain management injections, our client was found to have multiple herniated discs on MRI studies. The most serious and symptomatic ones were in the cervical spine, and the need for surgery was further confirmed by EMG and a discogram. This course of care was further supported by an independent physician’s exam for our client’s no fault/PIP carrier, NJ Skylands. Ultimately, in November 2018, a Bergen County neurosurgeon performed a radical anterior cervical discectomy with fusion and autograft at C5-C6 at Valley Hospital.

7) Amos Gern and Mayra Suazo-Aquino settled an Ocean County motor vehicle accident for a Queens, NY couple, with two insurance companies for a total of $118,500. The couple, 71 and 68, were driving in Lakewood to visit with family, when they were involved in a multi-vehicle accident precipitated by a drunk driver insured with GEICO. Another operator was also injured, but that driver and our client’s husband sustained relatively modest injuries. The husband was treated in the emergency room for facial trauma/laceration to the mouth, rib and clavicle pain, and spinal discomfort. By contrast, the wife was hospitalized with a serious left clavicle fracture deformity, a lacerated scalp with a concussion, and a fractured finger. Both had orthopedic and PT care subsequently. GEICO’s insured had a minimum $15,000/$30,000 policy, which was offered once everyone’s injuries could be assessed. The husband and the other injured operator each received $7,500, while the wife collected $15,000. A suit was filed not only against the drunk driver, but also against our clients’ Underinsured Motorist/Bodily Injury Policy with Progressive Insurance, to seek additional damages. While the wife’s clavicle never properly healed, remaining a non-union, she determined not to seek corrective surgery for fear of further complications. Progressive agreed to pay an additional sum of $8,500 to the husband and $87,500 to the wife.