An Essex County jury returned a verdict of $4.55 million, following a two-week trial, to Rosie Pietrobon, a 57-year-old developmentally disabled adult with special needs. She was represented by Andrew Fraser and the personal injury team of Laddey Clark & Ryan and Peter DeFrank of the DeFrank Law Group.
Ms. Pietrobon slipped and fell during a first communion celebration at the Hanover Manor, a banquet facility in East Hanover, NJ, on May 3, 2015. She was walking onto the dance floor when she stepped on fruit that had spilled on the dance floor. Two eyewitnesses confirmed there was fruit on the dance floor and Ms. Pietrobon’s mother saw someone cleaning the floor after her daughter fell. However, the DJ, who frequently worked parties for the Hanover Manor, claimed she tripped over her own two feet. Management for the Hanover Manor reviewed surveillance video of the fall, but allowed it to be taped over. It also originally maintained but did not produce an incident report made contemporaneously with the event.
Ms. Pietrobon sustained severe orthopedic injuries and life-altering disabilities, resulting in an invasive hip fracture, which required a partial hip replacement. The hip replacement led to a leg length discrepancy, which made her unstable on her feet and has caused significant lower back pain. Ms. Pietrobon’s balance issues, when combined with her developmental disability, have caused her to be fearful of falling, causing her to go from a relatively independent person to someone who needs 24-hour life-long care.
Ms. Pietrobon, due to her developmental disabilities, was unable to testify on her own behalf, but plaintiff’s counsel had eyewitnesses and her guardian and sister, Jasmine Pietrobon, testify. They also produced a hospitality and food service industry expert, Dennis Gemberling; orthopedic expert, Dr. Mark Berman; physiatrist and rehabilitation expert, Dr. Bradley Cash; rehabilitation needs and life care planning expert, Daniel Wolstein; and psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Kezmarsky.
The defense attorneys, Hoagland Longo, called liability witnesses including the disk jockey, maître d’hôtel and manager at the event, as well as a damages orthopedic expert, Dr. Howard Blank. Merchans Insurance Group, the insurance carrier for the defendant, took a no-pay position and made no offers to settle the case. Plaintiffs’ argued both the constructive notice and mode-of-operation based upon the design of the banquet room, which required guests to walk across the dance floor with their food to get to their seats.
After a two-week trial before Judge Thomas R. Vena in Essex County, the six-member jury deliberated for 3½ hours before returning a verdict of $4,550,000.
Counsel for the plaintiff were Andrew A. Fraser of Laddey Clark & Ryan, LLP in Sparta and Peter J. DeFrank of the DeFrank Law Group in Wayne. Defense counsel were John C. Simons and William G. McGuinn of Hoagland Longo Moran Dunst & Doukas, LLP in New Brunswick.
“I am extremely pleased and frankly relieved that the jury returned a verdict consistent with the significant damages sustained by Rosie,” says Fraser. “This money will be used to take care of Rosie as she continues to require constant care and supervision and learns to try and walk again with her artificial hip.”
“It was an honor to represent Rosie who, due to her developmental disabilities, was unable to advocate for herself” and “it was especially rewarding helping such a great family and being successful on a case that was originally rejected by another law firm” added DeFrank.