$23M Awarded Against Contractor who Swindled Disabled Homeowner

Attorneys for the trust of a late Santa Monica, CA, disabled man secured a $23 million verdict in a lawsuit against an unscrupulous contractor who swindled a disabled man out of his home. Contractor Noam Bouzaglou maliciously manipulated Timothy McGinty and conspired with a lawyer to sign over the deed to his home to pay for unneeded repairs.

In 2009, the city of Santa Monica informed McGinty that he needed to repair some issues with his garage.  His older sister Kathleen, who was autistic, had lived in the house all her life and was supported by her brother.

McGinty signed a contract to have Bouzaglou make the unnecessary repairs.  Bouzaglou convinced McGinty to secure a $400,000 loan against the property to pay for the remodeling costs, the proceeds of which were placed in the trust account of attorney Andrew Stern.  During construction, McGinty was hospitalized for a mental condition.  When he went back home, Bouzaglou told McGinty that he needed even more money to pay for the project.  Bouzaglou offered to get financing for McGinty if he would quitclaim the property over to him.  Joining the fraud, attorney Stern drew up a contract containing false, unsecured promises that Bouzaglou would pay McGinty a portion of any profits from the sale of the property.

When the home was in escrow to be sold, McGinty died.  His cousin, Jeanne Haworth, became the successor trustee.  When she discovered that the deed to the family home showed Bouzaglou as the owner, she contacted attorney Joseph Girard, who immediately stopped the sale and filed a lawsuit against Bouzaglou.

The verdict was affirmed by the Judge Stephen Czuleger, on April 28, 2014, concluding an eight day trial, and the judge ordered the contract rescinded and the deed canceled, returning the home to Haworth, the special needs trustee for Kathleen. The jury and judge also agreed that the attorney, Andrew J. Stern, was professionally negligent and engaged in fraudulent conduct.The case is Haworth v. Bouzaglou, Case no. BC495095. Attorney Stern represented the defendant.


Settlement Roundup: Wrongful Death Lawsuit against Former Coach Settled for $900K

Wrongful Death Lawsuit against NJ High School, Former Coach Settled for $900K

A settlement for $900,000 has been reached with the estate of a New Jersey teen who killed himself by jumping in front of a train just before he was to testify about alleged sexual misconduct by his former high school baseball coach.  The 18-year-old’s estate settled with “Coach Bart” Bartholomew McInerney, St. Rose High School in Belmar, NJ, and The Diocese of Trenton.

The coach is awaiting retrial on charges of child endangerment in Middlesex County, NJ after a 2010 conviction on 10 counts of child endangerment in Monmouth County, NJ was overturned.  McInerney is accused of encouraging his players to masturbate, send texts to him with details, and in some cases, videotape it.


Pennsylvania Resort Owner Reaches Partial Settlement in Wrongful Death Lawsuit for $200K

A Fayette County, PA judge has approved a partial settlement of $200,000 between the parents of a teen killed in a drunk-driving accident and the founder of a resort in Farmington.  Zack Nelson died five days after a car he was riding in crashed into a tree on the resort.  The teenage driver of the car had a blood alcohol content of 0.136 percent.

Resort founder Joseph Hardy and his daughter Paige were named in the lawsuit.  According to the lawsuit, Hardy knew his daughter hosted underage drinking parties, but didn’t do anything about them.


Undisclosed Settlement Reached in Wrongful Death of Virginia Woman Who Choked to Death in Jail

A settlement was reached this week in the wrongful death lawsuit of a Virginia woman who choked to death on her plastic jail ID bracelet.  Jacquelynn Schwartz, 31, was found dead in her cell in the Virginia Beach Correctional Facility where she was being held on contempt charges after having a blood alcohol level of 0.21 during a court appearance for a driving offense.

The late woman’s husband, David LaClair, filed the lawsuit against Conmed, a privately-owned medical company used by the jail.  Three of Conmed’s nurses were also named in the lawsuit for failing to take Schwartz’s vital signs or reviewing her intake forms which might have alerted them to Schwartz’s condition.  An autopsy revealed Schwartz was likely suffering from “alcohol withdrawal with seizures and delirium,” and ruled Schwartz’s death accidental.


$625K Settlement Reached for Rhode Island Woman Injured in Wreck

A Rhode Island attorney has reached a $625,000 settlement for his unidentified client after she was injured in a wreck in January 2013.  Her car was struck by another vehicle traveling at an estimated 60 mph that had run through a red light.

The plaintiff, a West Warwick, RI resident, suffered multiple fractures, bruises and lacerations, and was hospitalized for two weeks.  Emergency responders worked for more than an hour using the “Jaws of Life” to extract the woman from her vehicle.  She was then airlifted to the trauma center at Rhode Island Hospital.

Louisiana Appeals Court Adds $2.4M Award to Victim of Underage Drinking Crash

The Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has awarded $2.4 million in additional damages to a permanently disabled victim of an automobile accident involving underage drinking.  Three teenagers from the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette were killed, and the man receiving the award is one of two teens who survived the crash on August 21, 2005, just days before Hurricane Katrina.

Ryan Wiltz was 16 when the accident happened on Louisiana Road 16, near the Sun community in St. Tammany’s Parish.  Brian LaFontaine, 17, was driving the vehicle the teens were in when it went out of control and struck a tree.  Investigators said LaFontaine’s blood alcohol level was two-and-a-half times the legal limit for adults in Louisiana.  Charie Billiot and Rachel Gabb, both 16, were killed along with LaFontaine.  Billiot’s sister Chrissie was the only other survivor, and the only passenger wearing a seat belt.  The teens had been tubing on the Bogue Chitto River to celebrate the start of their senior year in high school.

Wiltz was left partially paralyzed and suffered irreversible brain damage.  His parents filed a lawsuit in the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, LA against the Meraux Food Store and Winn-Dixie in Chalmette.  A Jefferson Parish jury found the defendants partially responsible for Wiltz’s injuries in August 2011, and awarded $18.5 million to Ryan Wiltz, $15 million of which was designated for future medical expenses.  The amount included $600,000 for his pain and suffering.  But the three-judge appeals court panel last month decided that amount was not enough, and increased it to $3 million.  Judge Hans Liljeberg called the $600,000 award “abusively low.”

The Wiltz’s attorney, Richard Trahant, said he was pleased with the appeals court’s decision, but added that he expects the defendants to appeal the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The case is Gina and Timothy Wiltz, et al v. Brothers Petroleum, LLC, et al, case number 13-CA-332 C/W 13-CA-333 & 13-CA-334 before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana.  The trial was held in the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish, case number 630-138 C/W 634-479 C/W 634-752, Division “J.”

Elderly Veteran Negotiated $1.25M Settlement with California Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs

An 80-year-old Korean War veteran reached a $1.25 million settlement with the California Department of Veteran’s Affairs on April 1 after being dropped several times by caregivers and suffering a broken back.  The settlement was reached after filing a Complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court in which the plaintiff’s attorneys alleged elder abuse, negligence and negligent hiring and supervision.

John Tully was admitted to the Veteran’s Home of California – West Los Angeles on April 29, 2013 after suffering a stroke and two heart attacks, according to court documents.  Plaintiff alleged that his physician issued two orders that Tully should have at least two caregivers help him with transfers from his bed to his wheelchair and from a shower chair to his wheelchair.  However, there were two documented incidents in which Tully was dropped in the facility when only one caregiver was assisting.  Despite that, the facility continued to report to the federal government that Tully was being assisted by two caregivers.

Tully’s attorneys Stephen Garcia and William Artigliere of Garcia, Artigliere & Medby in Long Beach argued that the second of these drops caused a fracture of his T-12 vertebrae including retropulsion into his spinal canal.  This left him in severe pain, and eventually unable to move his legs out of a “frog leg” position in bed.  As a result of remaining immobile in this position, Mr. Tully developed a Stage IV pressure sore on the outside of his foot.  Unfortunately, the risks of surgery on this fracture outweighed the potential benefits to Mr. Tully and the fracture left him without control of his bowels and bladder.

The case is John Tully v. State of California Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Case Number: SC121764, and was venued at the Santa Monica Courthouse before Judge Allan J. Goodman.

NJ Appeals Court Upholds $5.5M Verdict in Tire Blow-Out Lawsuit

$5.5 M verdict upheld for NJ family injured when tire blow out overturned SUV

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.

AZ Supreme Court Rules Marijuana Traces in Bloodstream Not Enough for DUI

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that finding trace amounts of marijuana metabolite in a driver’s bloodstream isn’t enough to convict the person of Driving Under the Influence (DUI).  The justices ruled that the state must prove that drivers have actually been impaired by the drug while driving.

According to the on April 22 ruling, police stopped a vehicle driven by Hrach Shilgevorkyan for speeding and making unsafe lane changes.  Shilgevorkyan admitted to smoking pot the night before, and submitted to blood tests, which revealed Carboxy-THC in his bloodstream.  Shilgevorkyan was charged with two counts of DUI.  The charge was dismissed by a trial judge, who argued in a pretrial motion that the blood tests didn’t reveal any THC or its metabolite, Hydroxy-THC.  Prosecutors argued that they didn’t test for Hydroxy-THC because it doesn’t stay in the body long and converts quickly to Carboxy-THC, which can remain in the body for up to 30 days.  The state then appealed the judge’s decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The opinion reverses a state appellate court memorandum decision from 2012 which stated that Arizona law prohibits “driving with a proscribed drug or ‘its metabolite’ includes the metabolite Carboxy-THC.”

The Supreme Court’s decision notes that the state’s position could create problems for Arizona residents who smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes.  Arizona legalized medicinal marijuana in 2010.

The case is The State Of Arizona v. Myra Harris, No. CV-13-0056-PR, April 22, 2014.

Attorneys for the defense were Clark L. Derrick, Rhonda E. Neff, Kimerer & Derrick, P.C., Phoenix; and Michael Alarid, III (argued), Law Offices of David Michael Cantor, P.C., Phoenix, for Hrach Shilgevorkyan. Attorneys for the state were William G. Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, Andrea L. Kever, Deputy  County  Attorney, Susan  L. Luder, Deputy County Attorney (argued), Phoenix, for State of Arizona.

Chicago Stroke Victim Awarded $14M after Taking Yasmin

A Chicago woman who suffered a severe stroke 13 days after starting the controversial birth control medication Yasmin has been awarded $14 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who prescribed the medication.  Dr. Zbigniew Aniol wrote the prescription for Mariola Zapalski, 37, who is now wheelchair-bound after the stroke paralyzed the left side of her body and caused profound and permanent brain injury.  A four woman, eight man jury reached the verdict April 18 after a two-week trial before Cook County Circuit Judge Edward Washington II.

Dr. Aniol prescribed Yasmin for Zapalski in 2007 to help control irregular bleeding.  Less than two weeks later, she suffered the stroke that left her partially paralyzed.  She now requires 24/7 care by her husband Rafal, who is unable to work.  The Zapalskis immigrated to the US from Poland, and now live in Elmwood Park, a suburb of Chicago.

Yasmin, which is still available, has been criticized by medical professionals for its severe side effects, including causing strokes in young women.  The FDA has issued a safety review update for Yasmin and other birth control drugs containing drospirenone because of an increased risk of blood clots.

National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 member Bradley Cosgrove of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago represented the Zapalskis.  “We are pleased with the fact the jury understood the seriousness of this case and the severity of Mariola’s injuries,” Cosgrove said following the verdict. “The conduct of the defendant left a young woman’s life forever changed and hopefully this verdict will send a message to other health care providers to be very careful in prescribing this medication that can be very dangerous.”  Cosgrove was assisted by Sarah King, an associate with Clifford Law Offices.

Cosgrove reached a $2.5 million settlement with Resurrection Medical Center about a month ago.  Officials at Resurrection referred the Zapalskis to Dr. Aniol.

The case number is 09 L 4061.  Attorneys for the defendant, Dr. Aniol were Charles Redden and Amy Thompson of Pretzel & Stouffer.

Houston attorney Sammy Ford IV selected for Texas Rising Stars

Houston Lawyer Sammy Ford IV was recently selected as one of the 2014 Texas Rising Stars by Texas Monthly magazine. Mr. Ford’s inclusion on this list signifies that he is among the top 2.5 percent of Texas attorneys under the age of 40.

Mr. Ford is an associate attorney at the Houston law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend. He devotes his legal practice to representing plaintiffs in cases involving personal injury, employment, securities and commercial litigation.

This is Mr. Ford’s second year on the Texas Rising Stars list. In 2013, the National Trial Lawyers Association recognized Mr. Ford on its list of Top 100 Trial Lawyers and on its Top 40 Under 40 list of prominent young attorneys.

In addition to his legal practice at Abraham Watkins, Mr. Ford is an active member of local and state bar associations and trial lawyer associations. He serves on the editorial board for Houston Lawyer Magazine and is a member of the State Bar of Texas’ Computer and Technology Section Council.

Mr. Ford is a 2004 graduate of Harvard College and a 2007 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas. He was an inaugural member of his law school’s Supreme Court Clinic and helped convince the Supreme Court to review a client’s case during a term in which the court reviewed only 78 out of 8,517 filed cases.

Mr. Ford also clerked with the Honorable Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit prior to joining the legal team at Abraham Watkins.

California Medical Device Maker Awarded $30M in Intellectual Property Lawsuit

Medical device manufacturer Neurovision Medical has won a $30 million intellectual property lawsuit in federal court against a rival start-up, NuVasive.  The verdict was reached April 3 after a five-day trial in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

According to court documents, Neurovision Medical claimed that “years ago when NuVasive was a start up, it deliberately appropriated for itself the goodwill associated with Neurovision Medical’s established trademark.”  Attorneys for Neurovision argued that NuVasive infringed upon their trademark for “Neurovision” and defrauded the US Patent and Trademark Office by registering the trademark for itself.  The jury agreed that Neurovision Medical owns the Neurovision trademark throughout the United States.

Attorneys for Neurovision Medical were Peter Ross and Keith Wesley of Browne George Ross, LLP of Los Angeles.  William Boggs of DLA Piper in Los Angeles represented NuVasive.  The case is Neurovision Medical Products, Inc. v. NuVasive, Inc., Case Number: 2:09-cv-6988-DSF (JEMx).

New York Man Awarded $4.8M after Being Misdiagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis

A New York County jury has awarded a landscaper and his ex-wife $4,873,703.08 in a medical malpractice lawsuit after a doctor misdiagnosed him with Myasthenia Gravis and treated him aggressively and invasively for nearly four years. Robert Wyble, 51, an Orange County, New York resident, underwent surgery, took medications, and had weekly plasmapharesis for years before he was correctly diagnosed with a different illness. National Trial Lawyers Top 100 attorney Richard Gurfein of Gurfein Douglas, LLP in New York, NY represented Wyble and his wife.

In the spring of 2005, Wyble’s primary care doctor referred him to an upstate neurologist because he had been falling down for unknown reasons. The neurologist then referred Wyble to Dr. Dale J. Lange, a specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. Following an examination and tests, Dr. Lange told Wyble he believed Wyble suffered from Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular autoimmune disease.

Myasthenia Gravis causes antibodies to disrupt the signal sent from the brain to the receptor cells of muscles, causing muscle weakness. There is no definitive diagnostic test for Myasthenia Gravis; only test results that are consistent with the disease and other diseases.

Despite extensive blood testing and CT scans, Dr. Lange never found either antibodies known to disrupt the receptor cells or tumors of the thymus gland that may also cause Myasthenia Gravis. Despite that, Dr. Lange concluded that Wyble had the disease, and that without aggressive treatment, he would become disabled and eventually die.

In July 2005, Dr. Lange prescribed Mestinon for Wyble, a drug intended to eliminate antibodies from the blood. By August 2006, Dr. Lange urged Wyble to undergo a thymectomy to remove his thymus gland, which is believed to play a role in the body’s autoimmune system. Wyble underwent the thymectomy in January 2007. Dr. Lange then prescribed increasing amounts of medication. By May 2007, Wyble was taking four immunosuppressant drugs, and in September of that year he began undergoing biweekly plasmapharesis, a plasma exchange procedure, through a surgically implanted port.

Wyble and his wife went to New York City in April 2009 for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Lange. When they got to Mt. Sinai, they were told he was no longer working at the hospital. They managed to track him down at the Hospital for Special Surgery, and made an appointment to see him there. When they did, Dr. Lange told the Wybles that he could no longer write a prescription for plamapharesis at Mt. Sinai, and he couldn’t write one at New York Hospital until his privileges were approved. So, Dr. Lange tried to arrange for a friend of his at Mt. Sinai to write the prescription, but that person refused because Wyble wasn’t his patient. Five or six weeks after his last plasmapharesis treatment, Wyble grew desperate and arranged to see another neurologist at Mt. Sinai, Dr. Betty Mintz. After examining Wyble, Dr. Mintz questioned the diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis. But, because of the patient’s insistence and out of respect for Dr. Lange, she agreed to continue his plasmapharesis. She did, however, begin taking Wyble off his immunosuppressant medications.

In November 2009, Wyble’s surgically implanted port for the plasma exchange procedure became infected. He was hospitalized at Mt. Sinai and given intravenous antibiotics. Dr. Mintz noted in his hospital chart that she never believed Wyble had Myasthenia Gravis. She then discontinued all remaining immunosuppressant medications, had the port removed, and discontinued all plamapharesis treatments. The reason he was falling was diagnosed as Cataplexy, and a prescription for Ritalin written by Dr. Lange in 2008 was continued and enhanced by Dr. Mintz. As a result, Wyble no longer has issues with falling down.
When Wyble was told he had Myasthenia Gravis, he went into an emotional tailspin. He became withdrawn, depressed, and stopped taking part in child raising, housekeeping and his marriage. His wife Zaida became sole caregiver to their children as well as to her husband. Every night, she had to clean and flush his plasmapharesis port, making sure it was sterile and didn’t clot. However after Dr. Mintz stopped his treatment for the disease Wyble didn’t have, Wyble didn’t recover from his depression and withdrawal. Over the next two years, Mrs. Wyble could no longer ignore the fact that she was no longer Robert’s wife, but his caregiver. She had hoped that he would bounce back after finding out that he didn’t have Myasthenia Gravis. When he didn’t, Mrs. Wyble moved out of their home in December 2011 and began divorce proceedings.

Despite his loss, Wyble is today back working full time, is taking up dancing as a hobby, and rarely falls down.

On March 18, 2014, a three man, three woman jury in Supreme Court/New York County awarded Wyble $373,703.08 for past medical expenses, $2,000,000 for his pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment, as well as $1,500,000 over the next 28 years for future pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment. The jury also awarded Mrs. Wyble $1,000,000 for her claim of loss of service, society and companionship.
The case is Robert Wyble and Zaida Wyble v. Dale J. Lange in the Supreme Court of New York Count, Index No. 114045/10. The case was tried before Justice Geoffrey D. Wright. Craig Fenno of Aaronson Rappaport Feinstein & Deutsch represented the defendant.