Appellate Court Reverses Judgment in $8 Million Elevator Worker Injury Suit
In a ruling that demonstrates the difficulty of determining and obtaining the legally sufficient amount of damages in New Jersey courts, an appellate court has reversed an $8 million jury verdict in favor of a construction worker injured in a 2005 elevator accident, sending the case back to the lower court for a reconsideration of that verdict in light of New Jersey law. The $8 million jury verdict was actually the result of a second trial, as a first trial in which the worker was awarded $4 million had been reversed by a higher court, resulting in the second trial (which initially ended in the plaintiff being awarded twice the amount of damages as in the first trial). The trial court will now re-examine the $8 million verdict to determine what the injured plaintiff should receive.
The case began in August 2005 when the plaintiff was working on a remodeling project in the main lobby of Headquarters Plaza in Morristown. The plaintiff was a carpenter who did roofing, framing, drywall, and ceilings at construction sites including hospitals, schools, police departments, sports complexes, and businesses. While working at the plaza, he entered a service elevator, and during a four-story descent, the elevator shook violently and came to an abrupt stop, slamming his body around the elevator as he carried heavy equipment. The worker suffered cervical and lumbar disc herniations, a labral tear to his shoulder, and erectile dysfunction as a result of the elevator ride, requiring years of medical treatment, physical therapy, and mental and physical pain. He sued the company that manufactured the elevator, and the jury in his first trial found that Schindler Elevator & Escalator Company was negligent and thus liable for $4.3 million. An appellate court reversed this verdict, however, finding that the trial judge failed to properly inform the jury on the question of whether there was sufficient evidence of the elevator company’s role in causing the plaintiff’s injury.
At retrial, the elevator company was again determined to be negligent and thus liable, and the jury awarded an even larger award to the plaintiff and his wife, finding that that the elevator company should pay them over $8 million. The most recent appellate court decision, however, reversed that verdict, with the court finding that the trial court needed to more fully discuss comparable verdicts in allowing for a jury award of that size. What this means is that a trial judge in certain instances can only properly approve a jury verdict where the judge looks at similar verdicts that have been handed down in other New Jersey courts and explains how the amount of money involved in the current verdict is justified based on similarities or dissimilarities to the facts in those other cases.
This case demonstrates that, even where the facts of a case are straightforward enough to convince a jury that a plaintiff is owed compensation by a defendant, there is a separate issue of calculating the damages that are owed a plaintiff and to persuade a judge and jury that those damages are justified in light of the plaintiff’s injuries and comparable verdicts.
If you have been injured on the job at a construction site or other worksite, you may be entitled to a larger payout for your injuries than you would receive solely by pursuing workers’ compensation, as the above case involving the injured worker demonstrates. An experienced and knowledgeable construction accident attorney will help evaluate strategies for obtaining the maximum compensation for the losses of you and your family.
If you or a family member has been injured in an elevator accident or other incident in New Jersey or New York City, contact the Law Offices of Andrew R. Jacobs for a free consultation with an experienced and successful construction accident lawyer.