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Essex County, NJ

The plaintiff driver, age 25 at the time, contended that the defendant negligently failed to properly maintain its garbage truck, resulting in the truck not being adequately visible as it was proceeding in front of the plaintiff, and merging to the left at a point the roadway narrowed from two lanes to one on a very dark portion of Route 46 East at approximately 4:00 a.m. The plaintiff contended that as a result, she struck the back of the truck, sustaining closed-head injuries that caused a six day coma and left her with relatively mild cognitive deficits, loss of use of her dominant hand, internal injuries including a ruptured spleen that required several surgeries, and a severe femur fracture with complications requiring surgery and possible further surgical interventions.

The plaintiff testified that as she was proceeding, she could not see that a truck was in front of her. The plaintiff related that she could only observe a "black shadowy silhouette" and was not sure if it was in the roadway in front of her until she was a few car lengths away. The defendant indicated that he coasted from over 45 mph to approximately 25 mph as he merged into one lane, and the plaintiff contended that before she could ascertain that the defendant’s vehicle was in front of her, she struck it. The plaintiff also testified that she was not aware that she had struck the truck until awaking in the hospital five days after the collision.

The evidence disclosed that the police had retained the glass reflectors covering the lower lights on the truck. The plaintiff, who introduced the evidence, argued that the jury could well determine that they were very dirty and that the testimony of the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert, that a driver approaching from behind would be unable to observe the vehicle, should be given great weight.

The defendant maintained that these lights would be visible. The defendant also contended that irrespective of this issue, the top set of lights would be fully observable. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert related that when he visited the defendant’s premises and inspected a number of vehicles, he detected that some of the vehicles, including the subject garbage truck, were configured in such a manner that the lights would not be on unless the brakes were applied. The plaintiff pointed out that it was undisputed that the defendant, who was slowing by coasting, had not applied the brakes.

The defendant maintained that the truck was visible. The defendant had conducted a video "recreation" in which an exemplar garbage truck was taped by a stationary trailing vehicle at various intervals at the time and place in question. The defendant contended that the video showed that the exemplar truck was visible. The evidence was introduced over the objection of the plaintiff that since the video was shot on the shoulder as opposed to the lane in which the collision occurred, and since the video had bright traffic cones to show when the truck should stop, the scenes depicted on the evidence were not sufficiently similar to the view had by the plaintiff. The plaintiff also argued that the jury could determine that the lanes themselves, not lit by the control vehicle taking the video, were very dark, and argued that the evidence had, in fact, supported the plaintiff’s version.

The plaintiff contended that she suffered severe ulnar nerve damage on the right, dominant side that has deprived her of most of the use of her right hand. A treating trauma physician conducted a demonstration before the jury in which he moved the thumb to other fingers and the plaintiff argued that the jury could both hear the crepitus, and determine that she does not have sufficient coordination to do so herself. The plaintiff also presented her brother, younger by approximately two years, who lamented that he feels as if he lost his best friend. The brother testified that formerly they were engaged in numerous activities, such as bike riding together, and that now, the plaintiff cannot do much with him other than sit and watch TV. The plaintiff’s mother confirmed the impact.

The plaintiff, who had been an aspiring artist, can no longer draw or paint and the plaintiff, who made no economic claims, contended that the loss of enjoyment of life is extensive. The plaintiff was a college student at the time of the accident. The plaintiff established that although she ultimately returned, she is provided another individual who takes notes for her.

The plaintiff also maintained that because of internal injuries, including a ruptured spleen, and the need for exploratory surgery, she suffered severe scarring in the abdomen and chest areas. The plaintiff contended that this disfiguring scarring is permanent in nature. The plaintiff also suffered a femur fracture and underwent surgery. The plaintiff contended that because of a delayed union, she will probably require a bone graft in the foreseeable future. The plaintiff, who was in a coma for six days because of the closed-head injury, contended that she suffered a TBI and some relatively minor, but permanent, difficulties with memory and concentration.

The jury found the defendant 55% negligent, the plaintiff 45% comparatively negligent and the $________ gross award was molded accordingly.

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