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Union County Jury Awards $20 Million in Fetal Brain Injury Case

A Union County jury returned a $20 million verdict in a medical malpractice suit, Tapia v. Alam, on Oct. 24, though the plaintiff is to recover $6 million due to the jury's allocation of 70 percent of the fault to a defendant who settled confidentially before trial.

The jury issued the $20 million verdict against two doctors in a suit claiming their failure to promptly treat fetal distress resulted in the birth of an infant with cerebral palsy.

Maria Tapia gave birth to twins in 2011. One of the infants, a girl named Kylie, developed intrauterine growth retardation, which caused her to lose weight because of insufficient nutrition, according to the suit.

A technician working for maternal fetal medicine specialist Garry Frisoli discovered Kylie's condition in an ultrasound test in the 33rd week of pregnancy, but the report sat in Frisoli's office for four days before it was faxed to Tapia's obstetrician, the suit claimed.

Tapia's lawyer, Dennis Donnelly of the Donnelly Law Firm in Summit, contended that the proper standard of care was to phone the obstetrician and patient immediately after the test results were received. During the delay, Kylie stopped breathing and suffered brain damage, the suit claimed.

Kylie's parents, Maria and Octavio Tapia, sued Frisoli and the obstetrician, who settled on confidential terms four weeks before trial.

Frisoli contended that his actions met the standard of care for a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and he claimed the obstetrician had been negligent. Frisoli also said the real cause of Kylie's condition was a pre-existing disease: neonatal hemocromatosis.

The jury awarded $11 million for Kylie's future care costs, $8 million for her disability and loss of enjoyment of life, and $1 million to her parents for loss of consortium. The jury found the obstetrician was 70 percent at fault, and Frisoli was 30 percent at fault.

Kylie, now 11, has profound brain damage, cannot speak and uses a wheelchair, according to Donnelly.

Frisoli's attorney, Michael Keating of Dughi, Hewit and Domalewski in Cranford, said he has filed a motion for a new trial.

— Charles Toutant

$1.45M for 3 Auto Accidents

Hall v. Jemmi Jon: A man involved in three different auto accidents was paid the last of a $1.45 million settlement in September in a consolidated Hudson County case.

Plaintiff Ronald Hall, currently 58 and a retired police officer, was involved in accidents on Nov. 23, 2011, May 29, 2013, and Oct. 19, 2015, and the first and third accidents led to under-insured motorist claims.

According to the lawyer, Damon Vespi of the Vespi Law Firm in Totowa, after the first accident, which occurred in Paterson, Hall settled with the tortfeasor for $27,500, and after the third accident, which occurred in Wayne, he settled with the tortfeasor for $20,000. UIM claims against his own carrier, New Jersey Manufacturers, followed those accidents.

The second accident occurred when Hall was on Newark Avenue in Jersey City, stopped at a light at Summit Avenue, and was struck from behind by a commercial van owned by Solex Inc., according to Vespi.

Hall sustained neck and back injuries, and aggravations to those injuries, in the three accidents, leading to chiropractic care and physical therapy, epidurals at the lumbar and cervical spine, and surgeries at the lumbar and cervical levels, according to Vespi, who noted that Hall has ongoing pain and requires further medical treatment.

The defendants challenged causation, though liability was not contested in connection with the second accident, Vespi said.

Earlier this year, according to Vespi, Hall settled with with New Jersey Manufacturers—for $70,000, in connection with the first accident, and for $480,000, on the third accident—and for $850,000 with Soles Inc. The total settlement, including the previous payments from tortfeasors in the under-insured motorist cases, was $1.45 million.

The resolution in the Solex case came during mediation with Paul Vichness of Mandelbaum Salsburg in West Orange, a retired Superior Court judge.

New Jersey Manufacturers was represented by Joseph Campbell of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, and Solex, by Lisa DeRogatis of William Staehle's Morristown firm. Neither returned a call seeking comment.

— David Gialanella

$761,500 Verdict in Middlesex Auto Case

Martinez v. North Branch LLC: A Middlesex County jury has awarded an Old Bridge man $761,500 as compensation for injuries he sustained when his car was rear-ended by a tractor trailer.

The jury awarded $761,500 to plaintiff Angel Martinez, 48, and his wife, Gina, on Oct. 30 after finding defendant North Branch LLC and its owner and driver, Ronald Slagel, negligent and liable for Martinez's injuries, said Martinez's attorney, John Molinari.

Martinez was injured on Dec. 14, 2015, as he was exiting the New Jersey Turnpike at Interchange 13 in Elizabeth, said Molinari, of Chatham's Blume Forte Fried Zerres & Molinari.

Martinez's car was stopped at a traffic light when it was struck by the North Branch tractor trailer, Molinari said.

As a result of the accident, Martinez sustained a fractured thoracic spine, an arterial herniation, and aggravations to existing neck and back injuries that required surgery, Molinari said.

The jury awarded Martinez $700,000, and his wife $35,000 in a per quod claim. The remainder of the award was for unpaid medical expenses, Molinari said.

Superior Court Judge Thomas McCloskey presided over the trial.

Molinari said the award does not include prejudgment interest, which would increase the total award to about $800,000.

North Branch's carrier, Nationwide Insurance Co., assigned the case to in-house counsel Robert Pettoni of Juengling & Urciuoli in Woodbridge. He did not return a call seeking comment.

— Michael Booth