$863,480 VERDICT – TORT CLAIMS ACT – COUNTY JAIL ACTS IN PALPABLY UNREASONABLE MANNER IN FAILING TO PROPERLY CLEAN SPILL – PLAINTIFF EMPLOYEE OF STATE DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES PRESENT TO SERVE PAPERS ON INMATE SLIPS AND FALLS, SUFFERING HERNIATIONS SUPERIMPOSED ON PREVIOUSLY UNDIAGNOSED SPINAL STENOSIS – NEW JUNCTIONAL HERNIATION FOLLOWING SURGERY WITH RETURN OF RADICULOPATHY.
Monmouth County, NJ
The plaintiff, at the time a 60-year-old assistant case worker for the NJ State Division of Child Protective Services, contended that the defendant Monmouth County acted in a palpably unreasonable manner in failing to follow procedures for cleaning a spill. The plaintiff maintained that as a result, she slipped and fell on a clear liquid as she was walking in the main corridor with a corrections officer as she was attempting to serve papers on an inmate. The plaintiff asserted that she suffered herniations at L3-4 and L4-5 that were superimposed on previously asymptomatic and undiagnosed spinal stenosis. The plaintiff underwent an initial fusion, had minimal residuals and was able to return to work for approximately 1 ½ years. The plaintiff contended that she then developed a junctional herniation at L2-L3 with return of radiculopathy, that she declined recommended surgery and that she was forced to retire at an earlier time than otherwise would have been the case.
The plaintiff maintained that immediately after she fell, she stuck her finger in the liquid, and that although it was clear, it felt oily. The plaintiff also related that she observed an inmate with a mop standing to the side of the corridor with two other inmates.
The plaintiff elicited testimony from jail officials that the policy is that after a spill was reported, an officer would stand next to it until a work crew arrived and cleaned it. The plaintiff also elicited testimony that the policy provided that the officer would remain until the area was dry and that while it remained wet, warning signs would be placed.
The defendant denied that the incident took place. The defendant pointed out that the plaintiff did not file an incident report with the jail.
The defendant also denied that inmates would be permitted to carry a mop in the facility unless as part of a cleaning crew under the supervision of an officer.
The plaintiff contended that she was trained to report an incident to her employer and that since it occurred at approximately 6:45 p.m., she could not do so until the following morning. The plaintiff reported the incident to the state at that time and contended that her claims should be accepted.
The defendant argued that if the incident occurred, the plaintiff failed to make adequate observations and was comparatively negligent.
The plaintiff developed pain radiating from the lower back and into the back of the of the leg. MRI revealed disc herniations that were superimposed on previously asymptomatic spinal stenosis. The plaintiff underwent fusion surgery with instrumentation. She had minimal residuals and was able to return to work for approximately 1 ½ years. The plaintiff contended that she then began experiencing lower back pain that radiated to the front of her leg. The plaintiff’s orthopedist diagnosed a junctional herniation at the level above the previous fusion and recommended a second surgery. The plaintiff, was advised of the risks, which included paralysis and the possibility it would be unsuccessful, and decided that in view of the risks, and the fact that a junctional herniation had occurred after the first surgery, not to have the recommended surgery. Her orthopedist testified that her decision was reasonable and without the surgery she would have permanent lifting restrictions.
The plaintiff contended that she would have worked until age 70 if it had not been for the accident and that she was not able to continue beyond age 65 because she was not able to lift children to transport them as required by her job. The plaintiff’s economist testified as to net past lost wages after deductions for payments received and the present value of future lost wages. The plaintiff’s claim for past and future income loss was approximately $450,000. The plaintiff’s economist also maintained that the loss of household services was approximately $250,000.
Medical bills of $103,171 were stipulated.
The Court instructed the jury over Plaintiff’s objection that they could consider that the plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages by refusing to undergo the recommended second surgery.
The jury found that the defendant acted in a palpably unreasonable manner, was 100% liable for the injuries, and awarded $863,480, including $103,171 for medical bills, $125,000 for past loss of earnings, $110,309 for future loss of earnings, $175,000 for loss of household services, and $350,000 for pain and suffering. The jury specifically found that the plaintiff was not comparatively negligent and did not fail to mitigate her damages.
Plaintiff’s economist expert: Stan Smith, PhD from Chicago, IL. Plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon expert: Ramil Bhatnagar,M.D. from Red Bank, NJ. Defendant’s orthopedic surgeon expert: Kevin Egan, M.D. from Roseland.
Nedrick vs. County of Monmouth, et al. Docket no. MON-L-1966-15; Judge Marc Lemieux, 06-25-18.
Attorney for plaintiff : Randolph H. Wolf and Amanda F. Wolf of Law Office of Randolph H Wolf in Red Bank, NJ.