Kimberly Deane, as administratrix of the Estate of Jennifer Christopher, and assuccessor administratrix of the Estate of Anthony Christopher, and as guardian for Sarah Grzybowski, and Robert Christopher v. Gary Niederland, Niederland Contracting Inc., Mack’s Boardwalk Pizzeria & Bar, Chadds Ford Hospitality Inc., and Deborah Gerstenberg.
At 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2007, plaintiff’s decedent Anthony Christopher, a 21-year-old dishwasher, was sitting in the driver’s seat of his mother’s sedan, which was parked on Summit Avenue in Concord Township, when the vehicle was struck, head-on, by the SUV that Gary Niederland was driving. The force of the impact forced the sedan down the street and Christopher went into cardiac arrest. Christopher’s mother, Jennifer Christopher, and brother, Robert Christopher, saw the car get struck and ran over to the scene. Emergency personnel soon arrived and performed CPR before Anthony Christopher was taken to the emergency room in an ambulance; Christopher later died as a result of the accident.
The authorities arrested Niederland whose blood work came back positive for cocaine with a blood alcohol level of 0.167. Niederland subsequently pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle and aggravated assault.
Jennifer Christopher sued Niederland, Niederland’s contracting company, Niederland Contracting, Niederland’s girlfriend, Deborah Gerstenberg, and the Chadds Ford establishment that served alcoholic beverages to Niederland on the night of the accident, Mack’s Boardwalk Pizzeria and Bar, for negligence, on behalf of herself and her son’s estate. Robert Christopher also filed a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the defendants. Lastly, another entity associated with Mack’s Boardwalk Pizzeria & Bar, Chadds Ford Hospitality Inc., was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
One year after the accident Jennifer Christopher committed suicide by hanging. Her body was discovered by her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah Grzybowski. Kimberly Deane, Sarah’s guardian, and Jennifer Christopher’s sister then assumed responsibility for the lawsuit. Deane also added a claim of intentional negligence of emotional distress on Sarah’s behalf, due to the distress the child suffered after discovering her dead mother’s body.
Plaintiffs’ counsel claimed that all the defendants were liable for the deaths of Andrew and Jennifer Christopher.
INJURIES/DAMAGES death; emotional distress; loss of society Plaintiffs’ counsel sought unspecified damages on behalf of Anthony Christopher’s estate, arguing that he suffered significant conscious pain and suffering before he died. Noting that Anthony Christopher was a supporter and father figure to his younger siblings, counsel also sought unspecified loss of society damages for his family members. Counsel also sought to recover $897,000 in past and future wage loss damages from income that Anthony Christopher would have provided had he not been killed.
Counsel for the plaintiffs also alleged that Jennifer Christopher’s estate and Robert Christopher were entitled to unspecified emotional distress damages as they both witnessed the death of their family member. Lastly, counsel maintained that Jennifer Christopher would not have committed suicide had she not witnessed her son’s tragic death and, thus, the defendants were liable for Sarah’s emotional distress damages which resulted from her discovery of her mother’s body after her mother committed suicide.
The defendants maintained that Sarah wasn’t entitled to any emotional distress damages because she was not a witness to the negligent act.
The parties agreed to a $1.6 million universal settlement and Niederland contributed $500,000 to that sum.