A $5.5 million award to a family injured when a tire blew out on their SUV has been upheld by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court on April 23. An Essex County, NJ, jury found that Flemington Buick Chevrolet Pontiac GMC in Raritan Township was negligent in servicing the vehicle three days before it overturned on Interstate 95 in Virginia on Easter Sunday, 2009. Flemington Car and Truck Country appealed the verdict, but the Appellate judges found no errors that would have justified a mistrial.
Roy Allen and his family were driving to Florida for a vacation in Allen’s 2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer when the right rear tire blew out. According to the Allen family’s attorney, Chris Hager of Niedweske Barber Hager in Morristown, NJ, Allen had purchased three maintenance agreements from Flemington Chevrolet, including one specifically for the SUV’s tires. The dealership had serviced the vehicle 17 times prior to the crash. When Allen brought the TrailBlazer in for service on April 9, 2009, he told service department employees that something wasn’t right with the vehicle’s rear axle. However, the employees didn’t check the rear tires, even though that’s the first item that should have been checked according to the General Motors service manual. Furthermore, the right rear tire that blew out was known to have had a bald spot as early as January 2009, when it was rotated from the front to the rear axle by workers in the Flemington service department.
The Allens’ daughter, Carla Ceasar, was driving the SUV when it overturned. Her son and daughter were also in the vehicle, along with Allen and his wife, Erna. Hager says Ceasar sustained serious head injuries in the wreck, and still suffers migraines, hearing loss and involuntary hand tremors. Roy Allen was 82 when the accident happened, and died later from an illness not related to the accident. His wife Erna was 73 at the time, and sustained neck, shoulder and back injuries that will require treatment for the rest of her life. One of Ceasar’s children suffered minor injuries and emotional trauma.
Following a 13-day trial before Judge W. Hunt Dumont, the Essex County jury awarded $7.5 million to the family. However the punitive part of the damages was later reduced from $5 million to $3 million. Compensatory damages were $2.5 million.
The case is Carla A. Ceasar, Erna D. Allen and the estate of Roy D. Allen, et al v. Flemington Car and Truck Country, et al. The appeal was heard by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, Docket No. A-1464-12T3. The trial was held in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-7665-09. Kevin Barber and Christopher W. Hager of Niedweske Barber Hager, LLC represented the plaintiffs/respondents/cross-appellants in the appeal, and Alan White, Alexander Gillespie and Becky Caruso of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, LLP represented the defendants/appellants/cross-respondents.