$6,300,000 – Construction Accident Case

Sure, everyone knows the old adage about what a picture is worth, but what about a video? Turns out that in the world of high-stakes personal injury litigation, a video can help to make a case worth more than $6.3 million.

That’s what attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Larry Bendesky of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky say in describing how they achieved a mediated settlement of $6.35 million in an Essex County, N.J., case on behalf of a construction surveyor who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was struck by a truck being driven in reverse by an unlicensed driver whose view was badly obstructed.

In the suit, Andrus v. Roman Asphalt Inc., Mongeluzzi and Bendesky put together a 20-page mediation memo that described in graphic detail the incident that led to Christopher Andrus’ injuries as well as their client’s long and difficult rehabilitation, including learning how to walk and talk again.

The memo includes eight photographs, beginning with one of Andrus with his wife and two children before the accident, as well as the pickup truck loaded with debris and equipment that struck him, and close-up photos of Andrus’ scars. It also includes numerous anatomical drawings that help describe the nature of his injuries.

But both lawyers say that one of the most important tools they brought to the settlement table was a video made by their colleague, attorney Eunice Trevor, that captured the devastating nature of Andrus’ injuries, his grueling rehabilitation, and the lasting effects his brain injury has had on his home and work life.

Trevor, who specializes in developing the evidence of damages in injury cases, said the 20-minute video “is like a mini-documentary,” and that it proved to be especially powerful evidence because it was started so soon after Andrus’ injury.

Mongeluzzi said many lawyers use videos, but don’t begin filming until years after the accident and therefore capture only the lasting effects of the injury.

“This showed the process from the beginning. You see Chris literally learning to walk again, and the painstaking, tedious rehabilitation he went through,” Mongeluzzi said.

Trevor said that later segments of the video were also compelling because they captured the effects that the brain injury has had on Andrus’ family and work life.

In one segment, a woman who hired Andrus to work as an assistant in a church thrift shop explained that he sometimes has difficulties with simple tasks, such as putting price labels on used books. His wife was also interviewed and described her husband’s difficulties in controlling his emotions ever since the frontal lobe injury.

According to court papers, on Oct. 7, 2003, Andrus was working for W.T. Rogers Inc. as the chief surveyor on a roadway construction project on the New Jersey Turnpike.

At the time of the accident, Andrus and a co-worker were marking the road as part of their survey in a “construction-only” zone that was separated from the turnpike traffic by two rows of concrete barriers.

According to the suit, as Andrus was walking to another spot to mark, he was struck by Lonzo Young, an unlicensed driver and employee of Roman Asphalt, who was driving Roman’s pickup truck in reverse in the construction zone.

The suit stated that the back bed of the truck was filled with construction equipment that obstructed the rearview, but Young was driving in reverse at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour.

The suit says the truck crashed into Andrus with such force that a portion of his scalp “was torn away and embedded into the rear bed door.” A photo in the mediation memo shows the chunk of scalp and hair that was found on the truck’s back door after the accident.

Andrus was thrown more than 30 feet, the suit says, and “his broken, battered body came to rest in a pool of his own blood.”

In the suit, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued that Roman had violated workplace safety rules by allowing a truck to be driven in a construction site with an obstructed view and no reverse signal alarm or outside observer to direct the driver and clear his path.

According to court papers, the driver, Young, was asked in his deposition: “Do you think that this accident could have been avoided?” He answered: “Yes, maybe if I was driving a little bit slower and more carefully.”

Medical records show that Andrus was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury; subdural hematoma; and subarachnoid hematoma with prolonged loss of consciousness.

Due to the pressure build-up and bleeding in the brain, Andrus had to undergo two craniotomies – a procedure in which power tools are used to saw through and remove portions of the skull to access the brain – and drainage tubes were then implanted to help relieve the pressure.

After spending nearly a month in the hospital, Andrus was transferred to a rehabilitation institute where he spent nearly three months as an in-patient, receiving extensive therapy to help him relearn how to walk, talk and function with his brain injury.

That was followed by another seven months of out-patient therapy.

Mongeluzzi said that although Andrus now appears to have improved considerably, he suffered permanent damage to his cognitive abilities and personality, as well as his senses of taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

In addition to more than $960,000 in medical expenses he has already incurred, an expert witness testified that Andrus’ future medical costs are likely to exceed $800,000.

Another doctor testified that Andrus has lost partial sight in one eye.

A third doctor said in his report that Andrus is “completely and permanently disabled,” and has “diminished cognitive abilities and profound neurobehavioral disorders.” The report went on to say that Andrus has experienced “only minimal improvement” and “suffers from an inability to control his behavior.”

The report concluded that “through the remainder of his life [Andrus] will need constant supervision in the home.”

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