Tractor Trailer Case: Matthew J. Vitucci Obtains Defense Verdict in U.S. District Court–Southern District of New York

May 24, 2016

Following a six day jury trial and only four hours of deliberation, Matthew Vitucci obtained a defense verdict for our client, A. Anastasio & Sons Trucking and Jeremy Horace Jupiter, in the matter of Manlapig v. A. Anastasio & Sons Trucking, et al., tried in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York before Judge Lorna G. Schofield.  Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on liability had previously been granted so the trial hinged on whether plaintiff sustained a serious injury pursuant to the New York Insurance law and the extent of any damages to be awarded to plaintiff.  In addition to general compensatory damages, this case also involved a claim for punitive damages based on the reckless hiring, retention and training of Jeremy Jupiter as a truck driver.

Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $900,000 and during trial plaintiff increased his settlement demand to $2.5 million.  During closing arguments, plaintiff requested $10.6 million dollars of which $6 million was for punitive damages and $4.6 million was for compensatory damages.  The jury returned a full defense verdict determining that plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury and did not award plaintiff any compensatory or punitive damages.

The case arose from an accident that occurred in 2012 on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge.  Our driver had just picked up an empty shipping container from a port in New Jersey and was transporting it on a flatbed trailer to a facility in Connecticut.  As our driver drove across the George Washington Bridge, the top of the shipping container struck the underside of an overpass causing the shipping container to become dislodged and fall from the flatbed trailer onto the roadway.  Plaintiff was operating a Freightliner box truck behind our driver and the front of his truck struck the rear of the shipping container after it fell onto the roadway.

Plaintiff alleged that this accident caused injury to his neck and back including traumatic disc herniations and bulges to his cervical and lumbar spine requiring continuous chiropractic therapy, bilateral laminotomy and a medial facetectomy at the L3-4 and L4-5 levels.  Plaintiff contended that as a result of his injuries he was unable to perform basic household functions such as cooking, cleaning or mowing the lawn.  In addition, plaintiff alleged that A. Anastasio & Sons Trucking was reckless in the hiring, retaining and training of Jeremy Jupiter due to Mr. Jupiter’s driving records, which included numerous traffic violations including a conviction for reckless driving, multiple speeding violations and accidents.  Plaintiffs further alleged that A. Anastasio & Sons was liable for punitive damages for failing to train Mr. Jupiter in the different sizes of containers and explaining to him the differences between standard size containers, which are 8’6” tall and high cube containers, which are 9’6” tall.  On the date of the accident, Mr. Jupiter picked up a high cube container which was too tall to pass over the George Washington Bridge.

Plaintiff offered the expert testimony of the performing spinal surgeon, Dr. Richard Radna, plaintiff’s treating chiropractor, Dr. Gary Cullin and an expert economist, Kristen K. Kucsma, M.A. Despite the testimony of these experts, Mr. Vitucci was able to persuade the jury that all of plaintiff’s injuries were the result of a pre-existing degenerative condition and that the only injury plaintiff sustained in the accident with our driver was a spinal sprain, which does not meet the level of a serious injury.

Defendants relied upon the testimony of neurosurgeon Dr. Douglas Cohen, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gregory Montalbano and biomechanical engineer Dr. Mariusz Ziejewski.  Dr. Ziejewski explained that the forces involved in the collision between plaintiff’s vehicle and the container were such that there was less than a 1% chance plaintiff sustained anything more than a spinal sprain in the accident and Dr. Cohen and Dr. Montalbano both offered evidence demonstrating that based on their medical evaluations, plaintiff only sustained a spinal sprain in the accident.