$6,630,000 – Van Driver Injury

A Philadelphia jury has awarded just over $6.63 million to an airport van driver injured when a bus allegedly struck her as she attempted to help her passengers unload their baggage outside a terminal at Philadelphia International Airport.

According to plaintiff Kia Smack’s attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky in Philadelphia, the verdict in Smack v. Progressive Transportation Services Inc. was somewhat unusual because his client’s damages included more than $3 million for future medical needs for injuries that did not render her comatose or quadriplegic.

“I think this case highlights that plaintiffs’ counsel should consider utilizing a life-care planner, even if the injury is not considered to be in that catastrophic class of quadriplegia, brain injury, or nerve injury,” Mongeluzzi said.

According to court papers, Smack, who operated a van that transported long-term parking patrons to and from the terminals for employer Central Parking Systems, was dropping off passengers at Terminal C one day in August 2000 when the underlying accident occurred.

As she approached the terminal, a police officer waved her toward the third lane away from the terminal, as the nearest two lanes were clogged with traffic. According to court papers, after exiting from the driver’s side to get to the baggage hold at the van’s rear, she was struck by a bus driven by defendant Eric Brown, an employee of Progressive, also named as a defendant in Smack’s personal injury action.

In her pretrial memorandum, Smack alleged that Brown had been driving in the roadway’s fourth lane but suddenly swerved into the third lane right before passing Smack’s van, striking her while traveling at a speed of roughly 30 mph and sending her flying about 40 feet through the air.

In support of her assertions, Smack cited to the testimony of three eyewitnesses, all of whose versions of the accident supported Smack’s.

In court, Mongeluzzi said, the defense conceded Brown’s responsibility.

“[The defense] still tried the case on the basis that my client was comparatively negligent, something the jury utterly rejected,” Mongeluzzi said.

As a result of the accident, Mongeluzzi said, Smack, a 36-year-old resident of Sharon Hill, incurred serious leg injuries, an open fracture of her ankle, a fractured wrist, and the tearing off of skin on both lower legs.

After staying at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for just under a month, she developed chronic swelling of her lymphatic system, for which she has needed continued treatment, Mongeluzzi said. She is currently being cared for by her brother and 16-year-old son.

According to her pretrial memorandum, Smack will be totally disabled for the remainder of her life.

Mongeluzzi said that prior to trial, the case proceeded through two unsuccessful mediations. The defense rejected an eight-figure demand by Smack, he said. Smack’s pretrial memorandum states that it would not be surprising if a jury awarded her somewhere between $15 million and $30 million in non-economic damages.

Going into trial, Mongeluzzi said, Smack rejected a $5 million offer and later declined a $6 million offer during the trial. Devine confirmed that those offers had been made.

After a six-day trial before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Victor J. DiNubile Jr., the 12-member jury returned its verdict Monday after two-and-a-half hours’ deliberation, according to Mongeluzzi and defense counsel Robert Devine of White & Williams in Philadelphia. The jury’s verdict was unanimous, Devine said.

According to Mongeluzzi, the verdict included roughly $370,000 in past medical and hospital bills, $800,000 in loss of past and future earnings, approximately $3.16 million for future medical expenses and life-care costs, and $2.3 million in pain and suffering.

Mongeluzzi said that he would be seeking roughly $70,000 in delay damages.

Smack’s expert witnesses, Mongeluzzi said, included life-care planner Mona Yudkoff, a registered nurse with a private practice in Bala Cynwyd; Smack’s treating lymphedema specialist, Andrea Cheville, director of the cancer rehabilitation center at the University of Pennsylvania; and John Esterhai, Smack’s treating orthopedic trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mongeluzzi called Esterhai – who gave his opinion on Smack’s need for long-term pain medication and household attendance care – one of the single best witnesses he’s seen in his legal career.

Morris Starkman of Starkman & Nadel in Cherry Hill, N.J., handled the matter during the first mediation and subsequently referred it to Mongeluzzi, but he aided in Smack’s representation throughout the case. Mongeluzzi was assisted by Robert Surh, a Saltz Mongeluzzi associate.

Devine said that his clients are considering their appellate options.

“The verdict was obviously a compromised verdict,” Devine said. “The economics that were admitted into evidence exceeded $5.3 million. In addition, evidence of amputation risk had been admitted – and then later struck – following cross-examination of plaintiff’s medical expert Andrea Cheville.”

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