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Hudson County, NJ

This action involved a plaintiff off duty police officer, approximately 40, who contended that after he entered his car and had almost completed closing the door, the defendant tractor-trailer driver struck the door and pushed his car onto the adjacent sidewalk. The plaintiff contended that as a result, he suffered a lumbar herniation that necessitated a percutaneous two-level lumbar fusion. The plaintiff maintained that, the fusion did not take, he continues to experience severe pain, it is very likely that he will require additional surgery and he will probably be permanently unemployable.

There was no independent eyewitness testimony. The incident occurred on a narrow one-way street. The plaintiff contended that because of the presence of a double-parked car on the left side of the street, there was inadequate room for the defendant to pass through the area safely. The plaintiff was parked on the right side of the road. The plaintiff maintained that after entering his car and almost completing closing the door, he observed a large wheel striking his driver’s side and was pushed onto the sidewalk.

The plaintiff presented a trucking safety expert who maintained that because of the presence of double parked car, there was only ten feet for the eight foot wide tractor-trailer to travel through and that the defendant should not have attempted to squeeze through such a narrow area.

The defendant denied that the plaintiff’s version was accurate. The defendant maintained that the collision occurred when the plaintiff opened his door to exit and not as he was closing it after entering. The defendant also contended that the plaintiff opened his car door into the trailer portion of the rig.

The plaintiff contended that the step next to the passenger side of the cab and a plastic panel above the step sustained property damage and that this factor was particularly consistent with the plaintiff’s version. The defendant maintained that the damage to the cab was previously sustained. There was no damage to the trailer.

The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert maintained that the damage pattern to the inside of the plaintiff’s door reflected that the lug nuts from the defendant’s wheel impacted with the door. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert also contended that the damage to the step and panel on the passenger side of the defendant’s cab was also supportive of the plaintiff’s version.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert denied that this position should be accepted and maintained that the physical evidence was consistent with the defendant’s version. The defendant further denied that a double parked car was on the left side of the roadway. The plaintiff elicited testimony from the defendant driver both in his deposition and at trial that he had approximately one and a-half feet of clearance on either side. The plaintiff’s trucking safety expert maintained that the defendant should have realized that attempting to pass through such a narrow opening was dangerous.

The plaintiff complained of back pain to EMS at the scene, but refused medical attention. The plaintiff contended that he developed severe lower back pain and that approximately five weeks later; he sought chiropractic care and eventually came under the care of an orthopedist, pain management physician and orthopedic surgeon. The plaintiff maintained that conservative treatment was inadequate and that he underwent a percutaneous two-level lumbar fusion.

The plaintiff maintained that because of the likely failure of the fusion, and continuing severe pain, the plaintiff took an early retirement with a significantly reduced pension. The plaintiff contended that because of the pain and probable need for additional surgery, he is permanently unemployable.

The defendant denied that the plaintiff’s claims that the incident caused herniations and the need for surgery should be accepted. The defendant pointed to the records of the chiropractor who first saw the plaintiff five weeks after the accident that had injured his back subsequently moving furniture and painting. The chiropractor had no independent recollection of such history. The plaintiff maintained that he had irritated the lower back when attempting to paint and move furniture, was unable to do the tasks and had to hire individuals and obtain help from friends to complete them.

The defendant further maintained that the plaintiff had a long history of lower back complaints. The plaintiff had been a police officer for approximately 20 years and contended that any prior lumbar complaints were short lived and had never prevented him from remaining physically active. The evidence reflected that the plaintiff was a member of the emergency S.W.A.T. team, a D.A.R.E. officer and also helped provide security after the 9-11 attacks, being mentioned by name in the Congressional Record. The plaintiff maintained that in view of this history, the defendant’s position should clearly be rejected.

The defendant’s vocational expert contended that the plaintiff could engage in any number of alternative jobs and the defendant maintained that even if the plaintiff could not continue as a police officer, he should be able to earn $________-$________ per year. The plaintiff contended that a number of the jobs discussed by the defendant’s expert, including an airport security guard, entailed long periods of standing and the plaintiff maintained that he clearly could not do such work.

The plaintiff’s economist concluded that based upon an inability to obtain alternative future employment, the plaintiff would suffer approximately $1 million in future economic losses. The expert also maintained that if the plaintiff was able to obtain alternative work, he would nonetheless suffer $________ in such losses.

The jury found the defendant ________% negligent and awarded $________. The award was allocated as follows: $________ for past lost earnings, $________ for future lost earnings and $________ for pain and suffering.

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