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Essex County

The plaintiff bus passenger, age 39 at the time of the accident and 42 at trial, contended that as the bus was proceeding southbound on Route 17, a tire and rim suddenly vaulted over the median divider, crossed in front of the bus, ricocheted against either the right curb or other fixed object and then struck the bus, shattering the window across the aisle from the plaintiff, who was seated on the left side of the bus. The plaintiff related that when the tire crossed in front of the bus, the bus driver applied the brakes with great force, and that her head struck either the driver’s partition or the \ window frame. The plaintiff maintained that the force of this trauma caused ruptures to the choroidal membrane in each eye that supplies blood to the back of the eye. The plaintiff, who had been nearsighted since childhood, contended that this underlying condition was associated with a thinning of the membranes, rendering her more vulnerable to ruptures upon trauma. The plaintiff maintained that the injury left her legally blind and able to only make out shapes and shadows that are more than one or two feet away. The tire assembly had detached from a Cadillac which had been purchased used slightly more than two months earlier. The plaintiff contended that the defendant tire service, which placed four new tires on the car, either applied too little or too much torque to the lug nuts, resulting in the failure 69 days after the tires were purchased and after the car had traveled some ________ miles during this period. The plaintiff also named the bus driver as a defendant, contending that the driver of the common carrier, who had a heightened duty, should not have slammed on the brakes when the tire crossed in front. Finally, the plaintiff also named the owner/driver of the car, contending that he had noticed a strange sensation earlier in the day, and should not have continued driving until ascertaining the cause.

The evidence reflected that the driver had purchased the car in very good condition and the driver related that he brought the car to the defendant tire company to have new tires put on all four wheels. The driver indicated that he drove the car without incident until he noticed an unusual sensation shortly before the accident occurred. The driver related that he believed that the transmission might be malfunctioning and that he pulled to the side of the road to see if transmission fluid was leaking. The driver maintained that he had no means to ascertain that the problems were related to the tires and that he continued driving once it appeared there were no difficulties with the transmission.

When the tire assembly detached, all five studs broke off. The lug nuts attaching the tire assembly to the car were never found.

The plaintiff’s expert mechanic, who related that he has been changing tires for 25 years, maintained that the incident would not have occurred unless the defendant tire service’s employee had either attached the lug nuts with too little or too much torque. The defendant tire service denied that it had either applied too much or too little torque. The defendant tire service’s expert, who testified on videotape, maintained that it was likely that excessive torque was used when the tire had been changed sometime before the driver purchased the car, creating microscopic fissures which led to the failure on the day in question. The defendant tire service’s expert testified that that the defendant utilizes "torque sticks" which are color-coded according to make, model and year, and which are then attached to a power drill. The expert related that when a technician attaches a particular torque stick to the power drill, it will flex once the appropriate torque is reached, preventing the lug nuts from being subjected to excessive torque.

The plaintiff strenuously denied that the defendant’s position should be accepted. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that if such microscopic fissures had been made when tires were previously changed, there would have been some noticeable wear on the threads of either the lug nuts or threads that should have been evident to the technician changing the tire. The plaintiff also pointed out that since the studs had broken off, metalurgic testing to ascertain if such alleged microscopic fissures existed, could not be performed. After the defendant had rested its case, the plaintiff presented a defense employee who had been the assistant manager for eight of 30 of the defendant’s stores in the past 16 years. The defendant’s employee had a sample chart of such torque sticks and the defendant’s employee related that such a chart was used at all of its locations. The plaintiff contended that the procedure as described in the defendant’s expert videotaped testimony reflected a procedure that included the employee systematically applying torque a second time to ensure that the lug nuts are sufficiently tightened. The plaintiff pointed out that the poster contained a warning that advised against torquing the lug nuts a second time. The poster was supplied by the manufacturer whom the defendant’s representative had indicated supplies the torque sticks used at all its locations. The poster did not contain the name of the manufacturer and plaintiff’s counsel relates that when he inquired as to the identity of this manufacturer, the witness could not recall the name. The plaintiff argued that this lack of such knowledge was similar to a person being unaware of the brand of toothpaste he or she typically buys. The plaintiff argued that in view of this lack of knowledge and the apparent contradiction between the videotaped testimony of the defendant’s expert, who indicated that the defendant tire service’s unwritten procedure entails tightening the lug nuts a second and the warning against such a practice in the poster, the defendant’s position should clearly be rejected.

The plaintiff also named the bus driver as a defendant. The driver contended that she was confronted with a sudden emergency.

The tire service countered that in view of the bus company’s status as a common carrier with a heightened duty of care, this position should not be accepted. The evidence disclosed that the plaintiff did not suffer the vision loss because of the invasion of shards of glass into her eye, but that when the tire assembly passed in front of the bus, the driver slammed on the brakes and the plaintiff suffered the injury as a result of striking her head on the driver’s partition or the window frame.

The plaintiff further named the automobile driver as a defendant.

The plaintiff contended that this defendant should have taken the car to the nearest service station to attempt to determine the cause of the apparent difficulties when he failed to identify the problem himself. The driver testified that he had no reason to believe that the tires posed any danger and denied acting in a negligent manner.

The evidence reflected that when the driver observed the tire assembly passing in front of the bus, she applied the brakes with great force. The tire assembly ricocheted against some fixed object on the right side of the roadway and then struck a right window of the bus, which shattered. The plaintiff and other passengers were showered with shards of glass and tiny shards entered the plaintiff’s eyes, causing superficial lacerations.

The plaintiff, who had difficulties seeing, rinsed her eyes and believed that the condition would resolve, but realized by the next day that her vision in both eyes were deteriorating. It was subsequently determined that the trauma when the plaintiff’s head struck the fixed object caused a choroidal rupture that involved bleeding of the layer of tissue situated between the retina and sclera that supplies oxygen to the rear portion of the eye. The plaintiff’s ophthalmologist maintained that the membranes were thin because of underlying nearsightedness, rendering them more vulnerable to a rupture upon trauma. The physician further maintained that once the plaintiff struck her head and the membranes ruptured, no procedure could restore her vision. The plaintiff’s ophthalmologist related that a series of tests known as fluorsecein angiograms were performed and related that the tests entailed the injection of contrast material, facilitating the efforts to visualize the areas of hemorrhage. The physician testified that this testing confirmed the etiology of the loss of vision.

The plaintiff has been left "legally blind" in both eyes and cannot discern facial features when she is more than one to two feet away. The plaintiff can see outlines and shadows and can walk without assistance. The plaintiff testified that her greatest fears involve being left in the dark and a loss of her independence. The plaintiff, who lives in Jamaica, had come to the U.S. approximately three months earlier for an expected extended stay with her sister in Brooklyn. The plaintiff has three children in Jamaica. The children range in age from 16 to the approximately 20 and reside with the father’s mother. The plaintiff has two sisters and two brothers in the U.S. and continues to reside with one of her sisters in Brooklyn. The plaintiff contended that she is very concerned about becoming a burden on her loved ones and has, therefore, emotionally separated from them to some degree. The plaintiff maintained that the jury should consider that this feeling of isolation significantly heightened the impact of the injuries.

The plaintiff had worked as a receptionist at a spa in Jamaica for 11 years and resigned upon visiting her siblings in the U.S.

The plaintiff made no income claims.

The jury found the defendant tire service 70% negligent, the bus driver 30% negligent and exonerated the automobile driver. They then awarded $________.

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