New Jersey Verdicts

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Woman tripped on sidewalk at cemetery, asserted faulty repair

Amount:

$335,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Hudson County

Court:

Hudson County Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

leg-limp; knee-fracture, knee;
knee-fracture, patella;
other-physical therapy; other-comminuted fracture; other-fracture, displaced;
surgeries/treatment-knee surgery; surgeries/treatment-open reduction; surgeries/treatment-internal fixation

Case Type:

Premises Liability – Sidewalk; Slips, Trips & Falls – Trip and Fall; Premises Liability – Dangerous Condition; Affirmative Defenses – Contributory Negligence; Premises Liability – Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Liliana Arrunategui v. Fairview Cemetery Co. of NJ, Mount Moriah Cemetery Co. of NJ and Selective Insurance Company of NJ,
No. HUD-L-4635-15

Date:

November 2, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Liliana Arrunategui (Female, 59 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Robert H. Baumgarten;
Ginarte Gallardo Gonzalez Winograd LLP;
Newark,
NJ,
for
Liliana Arrunategui

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Steven Nehmer; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Union,
NJ called by:
Robert H. Baumgarten ■ Raymond Nolan; P.E.; Engineering; Highland Park,
NJ called by:
Robert H. Baumgarten

Defendant(s):

Fairview Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, 

Mount Moriah Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, 

Selective Insurance Company of New Jersey

Defense Attorney(s):

Michael O’Hara;
Zirulnik, Sherlock & DeMille;
East Hanover,
NJ,
for
Fairview Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, Mount Moriah Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, Selective Insurance Company of New Jersey

Defendant Expert(s):

Megan Deliberis;
Coding & Billing (Medical);
Mount Laurel,
NJ called by:
Michael O’Hara

Insurer(s):

Selective Insurance Group Inc. for all defendants

Facts:

On April 24, 2015, plaintiff Liliana Arrunategui, 59, a housekeeper, was walking adjacent to Fairview Cemetery, in Fairview. She tripped on a sidewalk slab that was uneven. Her right knee was injured. Arrunategui sued the cemetery, Fairview Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, and its parent company, Mount Moriah Cemetery Co. of New Jersey, alleging that the sidewalk was negligently maintained, creating a dangerous condition. Arrunategui also sued the insurer for both companies in order to obtain $5,000 in medical payment benefits. According to Arrunategui’s counsel, the sidewalk slab had been negligently repaired shortly before her accident. Specifically, it was repaired using asphalt that abruptly rose about three inches to the adjacent slab. An engineering expert for Arrunategui testified that the method used to fix the slab was defective and resulted in her falling. The cemetery’s counsel contended that the repair was done properly and that Arrunategui was comparatively negligent.

Injury:

Arrunategui was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where it was determined she had a displaced comminuted fracture of the right kneecap. Doctors attempted open reduction and internal fixation surgery but the kneecap shattered during the process of placing screws, so they instead performed a distal patellectomy, in which part of the kneecap was removed and the patella tendon was fused to the bone. Arrunategui had physical therapy about three times a week for four months after surgery. An expert orthopedic surgeon who testified for Arrunategui said she has a permanent injury and limp, which will not improve. Arrunategui sought damages for past and future pain and suffering and past medical costs. Counsel for the cemetery did not dispute causation or that Arrunategui was injured. An expert in medical billing for the defense testified that Arrunategui’s medical bills, which totaled about $140,000, should have been about $35,000 but she was uninsured.

Result:

The jury found that the cemetery was 80 percent liable and Arrunategui was 20 percent liable for her accident. Arrunategui was awarded damages of $335,000, which was reduced to $268,000, to reflect the apportionment of liability.

Liliana Arrunategui: $120,000 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $40,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $175,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Actual Award:

$268,000

Trial Information:

Judge:

Joseph V. Isabella

Demand:

$400,000

Offer:

$350,000

Trial Length:

4
 days

Trial Deliberations:

2
 hours

Jury Vote:

6-0

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.