A New Jersey jury awarded a Sussex County man in February 2014 $8 million for an elevator accident that occurred in Morristown in 2005. According to court documents, Richard Tufaro of Branchville, who was 48 at the time of the accident, was working as a carpenter on a remodeling project in the lobby of Headquarters Plaza, a New Jersey hotel. At the end of the day, Tufaro, who was wearing a 30-pound toolbelt and carrying a 75-pound shoulder bag, took an elevator from the lobby to the parking garage, which was four stories below.
In his court testimony, Tufaro said that the elevator was “shaking, (and) very bumpy.” Tufaro said that the elevator then came to a “very abrupt stop” and he was thrown into the elevator’s maintenance panel. As a result of the accident, Tufaro suffered spinal injuries, including nerve damage to his neck and back, several herniated discs in his vertebrae, and a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Tufaro sued Schindler Elevator Corporation, the Morristown based company in charge of maintaining the elevator. In 2012, a jury awarded him $4 million in damages. However, Schindler did not admit that the accident caused Tufaro’s injuries, although the company did admit that the elevator malfunctioned.
Tufaro and his attorney, Andrew Fraser, decided to appeal the jury’s verdict and seek a new trial. In a second trial that lasted 11 days, a jury doubled Tufaro’s original $4 million award to $8 million.
According to Fraser, Schindler relied heavily on “secret surveillance” videos that the company took of his client from 2007 to 2010 in an attempt to prove that Tufaro was not really injured. However, Fraser said that the secret video actually helped his client’s case. Fraser said, “It [the video] showed him doing nothing, gaining weight, shuffling off to his mailbox and other people doing work on his house…The surveillance was the best evidence to show how badly he was injured.”
Charles Dewey Cole, Jr., a law professor at Seton Hall Law School, said that it is unusual for attorneys to seek a second jury trial. In most cases, when a jury verdict is overturned on appeal, both parties try to seek an out-of-court settlement. Cole stated, “The last thing anybody wants to do is try a case a second time. You just don’t want to do it…It’s a complete do-over, a fresh start. A different jury can award whatever it feels is fair and reasonable compensation.”
Cole said that Schindler will probably challenge the second jury’s award. He said, “It’s a nice award, I’ll say. But the $8 million range seems a little high.”
Website Resource: Second jury doubles original $4M award to Sussex man injured in elevator mishap, The Star-Ledger, Joe Moszczynski, February 16, 2014