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New Jersey Verdicts

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Bar not responsible for patron's death, defense contended

Amount:

$20,000

Type:

Verdict-Mixed

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Essex County

Court:

Essex County Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

brain-coma other-death cardiac-cardiac arrest

Case Type:

Negligence Per Se - Hotel/Restaurant - Dram ShopWrongful Death - Survival DamagesIntentional Torts - Assault and BatteryWorker/Workplace Negligence - Negligent Hiring, Negligent TrainingPremises Liability - Inadequate or Negligent Security

Case Name:

Genevive Reilly, Estate of John Reilly v. Donald Wheeler, Michael Nolan, The Astor Bar and Grill, Inc. and Jalry Corp.

Date:

May 22, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Genevive Reilly (Female), 

Estate of John Reilly (Male, 64 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Frederick E. Gerson; Feitlin, Youngman, Karas & Youngman, LLC; Fair Lawn, NJ, for Genevive Reilly, Estate of John Reilly

Plaintiff Expert(s):

John Calandra ; Security/Premises Liability; Patterson, NJ called by: Genevive Reilly, Estate of John Reilly ■ Bruce Charash M.D.; Cardiology; Merrick, NY called by: Genevive Reilly, Estate of John Reilly ■ Michael Soudry MBA; Economics; New York, NY called by: Genevive Reilly, Estate of John Reilly

Defendant(s):

Jalry Corp., 

Michael Nolan, 

Donald Wheeler, 

The Astor Bar and Grill, Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Terrence J. Bolan; Bolan Jahnsen Dacey; Shrewsbury, NJ, for Jalry Corp., Michael Nolan, Donald Wheeler, The Astor Bar and Grill, Inc. ■ John R. Schwartz; Schwartz & Scerbo, P.C.; Jersey City, NJ, for Jalry Corp., Michael Nolan, Donald Wheeler, The Astor Bar and Grill, Inc. ■ George T. Taite; Deluca & Taite; Jersey City, NJ, for Jalry Corp., Michael Nolan, Donald Wheeler, The Astor Bar and Grill, Inc.

Facts:

In the early morning on Feb. 15, 2009, plaintiffs' decedent John Reilly, 64, a political aide, was a patron at the Astor Bar and Grill in Jersey City when he became involved in an altercation with another customer, Donald Wheeler. Reilly collapsed several minutes after the altercation and was taken to Jersey City Medical Center in a comatose state. He never regained consciousness and was removed from life support on Feb. 25. An autopsy found that Reilly succumbed to severe heart disease after collapsing. The decedent's estranged wife, Genevive Reilly, acting on behalf of his estate, sued Wheeler; The Astor Bar and Grill Inc.; bartender Michael Nolan; and Jalry Corp., the owner of Jack Miller's Pub in Jersey City, where Wheeler allegedly consumed alcohol before going to Astor Bar. Jalry was dismissed before trial. Plaintiffs' counsel alleged that Reilly was the victim of an assault by Wheeler that led to his death, noting that witnesses saw Wheeler punch Reilly in the mouth. Counsel also claimed that Reilly died as result of Astor Bar's failure to properly hire and train its staff. Counsel alleged that Nolan continued to serve Wheeler alcohol despite him being visibly intoxicated. The plaintiff's expert cardiologist testified that Reilly suffered a heart attack after a heated verbal exchange with Wheeler. The expert claimed Reilly's heart palpitations became more volatile during the altercation and that this caused an adrenaline surge that resulted in cardiac arrest. The expert opined that Reilly would not have suffered a heart attack if the bar's staff had stopped the argument earlier. The plaintiffs' security expert testified that the argument between Reilly and Wheeler was allowed to continue for too long -- somewhere between five and 25 minutes -- without the bar calling police to intervene. The expert also testified that the bartender should have stopped the altercation and was negligent for over-serving alcohol to Wheeler, who was visibly drunk. Wheeler's counsel argued that Wheeler was not responsible for Reilly's death in any way. His counsel argued that Wheeler did not physically assault the decedent during the argument, and further argued that Reilly and Wheeler were long-time friends who often engaged in verbal sparring while drinking. Counsel for Astor Bar and Nolan argued that Wheeler had not caused any problems with other patrons at the bar before Reilly showed up. Counsel further argued that Reilly had a preexisting history of heart problems, yet he continued to drink excessively and engage in heated arugments at bars such as the subject incident.

Injury:

The decedent's estranged wife, Genevive Reilly, sought to recover damages as a result of Reilly's death. The couple was separated at the time of his death, but Genevive Reilly claimed that they were set to reunite and she was still dependent on his income. The plaintiffs' economic expert testified that the plaintiff's economic losses were approximately $350,000. The defense argued that the decedent and his wife had been separated for a year prior to his death and it was unlikely they would have gotten back together. The defense noted that the decedent began drinking at the Astor Bar the evening of Feb. 14, which was Valentine's Day, and had no contact with his wife. The defense also argued that even if the two would have reunited, the decedent likely would not have lived very long given his poor health.

Result:

The jury found that there was no negligence on the part of Astor Bar or Nolan. It also found that Wheeler did not assault the decedent, but that he was 50 percent negligent. The jury also determined that the decedent was 50 percent negligent. The jury awarded the decedent's estate $20,000. Because of comparative negligence, the award was reduced to $10,000.

Actual Award:

$10000

Trial Information:

Judge:

W. Hunt Dumont

Trial Length:

3  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

1  days

Jury Composition:

3 male/ 5 female

Post Trial:

Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion for a new trial.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by counsels for Wheeler, Nolan and The Astor Bar and Grill. Plaintiff's counsel and counsel for Jalry Corp. did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.