Ann Marie Puleio v. Agustin E. Coto and J&A Trucking, No. 3:08-cv-04436-AET -DEA
Type of Injury
Plaintiff claimed deterioration of physical condition after crash
The parties agreed to binding arbitration with retired Superior Court Judge C. Judson Hamlin, now of Purcell, Mulcahy, O’Neill & Hawkins, LLC, in Bedminster, who awarded $890,000. The award was reduced to $875,000 under a high/low agreement (with a low of $450,000).
Judge: Anne E. Thompson | C. Judson Hamlin
• Patricia M. Love; Hendricks & Hendricks; New Brunswick, NJ, for Ann Marie Puleio
• Edmond Provder C.R.C.; Vocational Rehabilitation; Hackensack, NJ called by: Patricia Love
• Edward Magaziner M.D.; Pain Management; North Brunswick, NJ called by: Patricia Love
• Steven Reich M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; North Brunswick, NJ called by: Patricia Love
• Matityahu Marcus Ph.D.; Lost Earnings (Economics); Scotch Plains, NJ called by: Patricia Love
• Theodore C. Flowers; Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, Ltd.; Jersey City, NJ, for Agustin E. Coto, J&A Trucking U.S.A. Inc.
• Morrie Kricun M.D.; Radiology; Elkins Park, PA called by: Theodore Flowers
• Lewis Zemsky M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Piscataway, NJ called by: Theodore Flowers
• Gerard Olson Ph.D.; Economics; Radnor, PA called by: Theodore Flowers
• Gary Young M.Ed., C.R.C., C.D.M.S.; Vocational Rehabilitation; West Trenton, NJ called by: Theodore Flowers
On April 22, 2007, plaintiff Ann Marie Puleio, a 47-year-old office administrator, of North Brunswick, was driving in stop-and-go traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, in Burlington County, south of exit 17, when her car was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer owned by J&A Trucking U.S.A. Inc., and driven by Agustin E. Coto, both of Miami, Fla.
Puleio sued Coto and his employer for negligence, claiming personal injury.
The defense stipulated to liability and the matter proceeded on the question of causation.
As a result of the impact, the trunk lid of the plaintiff’s vehicle was pushed up. The plaintiff’s sister, who was a passenger in the car, got out of the car and had to tie the trunk lid down before the plaintiff could drive away from the accident scene.
The plaintiff claimed she felt a spasm in her spine and pain from her buttocks up through the middle of her back and called her brother, who owns a towing service, and asked him to have a tow truck meet her at Exit 7, but when she got to the exit, no tow truck was there, so she continued to drive slowly and in alleged pain. She dropped her sister off and went to her parent’s house, where she was encouraged to go to the hospital, but declined to do so. During the night, Puleio said her back stiffened and her pain increased, and the next day she saw her primary care physician, who sent her to St Peter’s University Hospital, in New Brunswick, where she complained of pain in her back, left arm, left hip and left leg, with a pain intensity of six. She was released with a prescription for Percocet and Flexeril and was advised to follow up with her primary care physician.
On April 30, 2007, the plaintiff was seen by her primary care physician. At that time, her weight was 180 lbs. and her blood pressure was 110/70. She complained of left hip, lower spine and left shoulder pain and her physician recommended rest and heat and prescribed Ultracet during the day and Tylenol 3 at night. She was seen again on May 21, 2007, with continued complaints of lower back, hip and shoulder pain. From May 2007 until October 2007, she tried to manage her pain and discomfort by resting and caring for herself.
In autumn 2007, the plaintiff was referred to an orthopedic specialist, who in turn referred her to a pain management specialist. Physical therapy was recommended for her SI joint, hip and shoulder. Fluoroscopically-guided hip joint injections and S1 joint, tendon and ligament injections were recommended for pain management. The plaintiff began a course of physical therapy on Oct. 30, 2007, and had 17 therapy sessions through January 2009. During this period she also underwent a series of pain management therapies that included a fluroscopically-guided injection for the right hip and a right sacroiliac joint injection. In early 2009, the plaintiff underwent a series of epidural injections.
On April 3, 2009, the plaintiff underwent a lumbar discogram. An MRI taken on Nov. 21, 2008, showed “a new central left paracentral disc herniation at L1-2 impressing upon the ventral thecal sac contributing to mild central stenosis without foraminal compromise.”
On May 27, 2009, the plaintiff had a consultation regarding her surgical options and was advised that her best option was to “live with her symptoms the way they are.” She was advised that surgery might alleviate the pain reproduced on the discogram, but “it is unlikely that she would have any improvement on her S1 joint trocanteric and buttock pain and it is possible that those symptoms could be exacerbated.”
On Oct. 14, 2009, the plaintiff’s weight was recorded as 217 lbs. and her blood pressure was recorded as 140/88. On Sept. 1, 2009, the plaintiff underwent an L2 to L4 instrumented fusion with decompression. After surgery, the plaintiff ambulated with a rolling walker. She was gradually able to ambulate independently, but uses a cane for balance and her physicians have opined that she may require a cane permanently. The plaintiff continued to experience ongoing chronic pain following the surgery and resumed pain management therapies, which her physicians contend will be required throughout the remainder of her life.
The plaintiff maintained that prior to the accident — a serious back injury and surgery notwithstanding — she was a fully independent, fully functioning single woman who lived alone. She worked for her brother and father as an office administrator in their towing and truck service cent
er. Her full salary in 2007 was $42,175, and she also reported income for the year 2006 from the North Brunswick Township Board of Education in the amount of $5,151, for the last time she coached the girl’s junior varsity basketball team. The plaintiff said she was incapable of returning to her employment and successfully applied for and received Social Security disability benefits that commenced in November 2009. She projected that her inability to return to work would result in a $517,063 economic loss after taking into consideration the $18,312 in annual disability benefits. She also projected a $311,966 loss of services due to her inability to care for herself and perform household chores.
The defense argued that many of the plaintiff’s complaints and diagnosed conditions were an outgrowth and continuation of a prior condition that caused her to undergo lumbar spine surgery in April 1999, which entailed a fusion at L4-5 and L5-S1.
Plaintiff’s counsel countered the prior condition contentions by stressing that Puleio was fully employed and functional subsequent to the prior surgery eight years prior to this accident, had objective deterioration of her physical condition subsequent to the more recent accident, and had heretofore exercised regularly and was accustomed to walking five miles a day.