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Postal Service Pays $4.9 Million to Settle Case Over Child Killed by Truck

NLJ/Diego M. Radzinschi

A suit in U.S. District Court over an accident in which a U.S. Postal Service vehicle killed a two-year-old, Chacon v. U.S. Postal Service, ended in a settlement for $4.9 million that was paid on Jan. 15.

Ana Chacon crossed Rahway Avenue in Elizabeth in a crosswalk on July 20, 2015, when she was struck by a Postal Service vehicle driven by Joseph Collins. Collins was turning right onto Rahway Avenue from Chilton Street when he struck Chacon and her grandchildren. He apparently did not look to the right before making the turn, said Eric Kahn of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins in Springfield, who represented the plaintiffs.

In addition, there was evidence that Collins was using a mobile phone just before the crash, Kahn said.

At the time of the crash, Chacon was carrying her 2-year-old granddaughter, Sofia Flores, in her left arm, and using her right hand to hold the hand of her four-year-old grandson, Jacob Flores.

Chacon was severely injured as a result of being struck. She managed to push Jacob out of the way, but Sofia was thrown to the pavement and killed.

A suit sought recovery for loss of companionship of Sofia, and medical and burial expenses; psychological trauma for Jacob from viewing the death of his sister, and the injury of his grandmother; and the injuries suffered by Chacon, including lower extremity fractures and mild traumatic brain injury.

Following mediation with former U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh, now with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, the parties agreed to settle for $4.9 million. Chacon will receive $3 million; the estate of Sofia Flores will receive $1.3 million; and Jacob Flores will receive $600,000. U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty of the District of New Jersey approved the settlement, including legal fees not to exceed $1.225 million; $65,917 in costs; and $436,138 in medical liens.

The settlement was approved by the Department of Justice on Dec. 18, 2018, and payment was received on Jan. 15, Kahn said. He handled the case along with Scott Sinins of his firm.

The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jordan Anger and Kristin Vassallo. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed the settlement.

— Charles Toutant

$1M in Consolidated Auto Case

Hernandez v. Huggans: A man rendered unable to work after a pair of auto accidents was paid the last installment of a $1 million settlement in his Essex County suit on Jan. 7.

Reinaldo Hernandez, currently 40, was involved in the first of the two accidents at issue on Jan. 8, 2013, when he was stopped on Belleville Turnpike in North Arlington waiting to turn left onto Schuyler Avenue, and was struck from behind by James Huggans Jr. in a pickup truck owned by Paper Bag Players Inc. The second accident occurred on Feb. 12, 2015, while Hernandez was driving on Route 1&9 in Newark and Algernon Gordon, driving a vehicle owned by Calvary Staffing, backed up onto the road from an exit ramp. Hernandez saw Gordon and slowed down, but was struck in the front of his vehicle by the reversing Gordon vehicle, according to Hernandez's attorney, Damon Vespi of the Vespi Law Firm in Totowa.

Hernandez claimed the first accident caused injuries to his cervical and lumbar spine, including a disc herniation at the cervical level and disc bulges at the lumbar level, and that the second accident aggravated those injuries and led to chronic pain and the need for surgery. Vespi said Hernandez returned to work as a home health aide in a limited capacity after the first accident, but was ultimately forced to stop work after the second accident and was deemed totally disabled by the Social Security Administration as of August 2015, his last date of work.

Separate suits against Huggans and Gordon were consolidated in September 2015.

Treatment for Hernandez's spinal injuries was postponed while he underwent chemotherapy for testicular cancer. He was cancer free as of 2017. To treat the spinal injuries, he underwent a two-level discectomy and fusion at the cervical level, Vespi said.

The case settled in October 2018 during mediation with Eugene Codey, a retired judge with Connell Foley in Roseland. Huggans and Gordon each are paying half of the $1 million settlement, according to Vespi.

Huggans' attorney, Nancy Appel of William Staehle's Morristown firm, didn't return a call about the case.

Neither did Gordon's attorney, Robert Neff Jr. of the Florham Park office of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker.

— David Gialanella

$250K for Sidewalk Fall

Kopec-O'Kearn v. PGIM Inc.: A woman who claimed she sustained permanent wrist and shoulder injuries in a sidewalk fall settled her Morris County case for $250,000 on Oct. 11, 2018.

According to the plaintiff's attorney, on Jan. 6, 2017, plaintiff Darlene Kopec-O'Kearn, a senior manager for a pharmaceutical company, was walking on a sidewalk at 400 Somerset Corporate Blvd., in Bridgewater, when she tripped and fell. She claimed injuries to the shoulder and wrist of her dominant (right) arm. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendon tears. She was treated with physical therapy but ultimately underwent an arthroscopy that was then changed to an open rotator cuff repair. With ongoing wrist complaints, Kopec-O'Kearn was referred to a hand specialist and underwent a cortisone injection to her right wrist. Her symptoms improved following the injection, but she allegedly still experienced episodes of pain. Kopec-O'Kearn alleged that she has permanent scarring and disfigurement at the surgical site on her right shoulder, with associated discomfort and weakness. She also alleged some loss of mobility and dexterity in her right arm/shoulder.

The suit contended that property owner PGIM Inc. was negligent because it knew about or should have been aware of the dangerous condition for a sufficient period of time prior to the accident. Moreover, the property owner failed to repair and/or to maintain and keep its premises safe for business invitees like Kopec-O'Kean, her counsel contended. The defense maintained that the condition was open and obvious and that Kopec-O'Kearn should have avoided it.

In his report, Kopec-O'Kearn's shoulder surgeon causally related her injuries and treatment to the accident, and opined that the injuries are permanent in nature. Kopec-O'Kearn sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. Her husband sought damages for his claim for loss of consortium.

The case settled pretrial, before PGIM's counsel offered a defense as to Kopec-O'Kearn's alleged injuries and treatment. PGIM Inc.'s insurer, Sompo International Holdings Ltd., agreed to pay a total of $250,000, from a policy that provided $1 million of coverage.

The plaintiffs were represented by Christopher L. Musmanno of Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost in Denville. The defendant was represented by John P. O'Toole of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker in Florham Park.

*Editor's Note: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' counsel. Defense counsel declined to contribute.

— Adapted from VerdictSearch reports