Court Asked to Reopen $10M Case Over Fatal Turnpike Crash

The Ronald Reagan Florida Turnpike (top to bottom) – I595 (left to right) – State Road 84 (left-right) interchange – shot from U S Airways A320 N111US on August 12, 2003.
Sunbird Photos by Don Boyd stock #USD030849.

In some New Jersey cases, a court is able to grant permission to reopen cases that were previously closed for specific reasons. In the case of car accidents, the same can occur for any number of reasons and it is solely at the discretion of the judge to make a final decision on whether or not the case should be opened further to allow new information. Under New Jersey state code 7:8-9 (Procedures on Failure to Appear) under (e) Reopening: A case marked closed shall be reopened upon the request of the defendant, the prosecuting attorney or on the court’s own motion.

In recent news in March 2015, Trinity Highway Industries was hit with a $175 million whistleblower verdict in Texas over allegedly defective guardrails. However, they are now facing a motion in New Jersey state court seeking to reopen their suit over a fatal accident that took place on the Turnpike from such.

Details of the Case

The case (Sweeney v. Air Brook Limousine) came to light when a 34-year-old computer salesman named Patrick Sweeney from New York was going to an airport in 2006. The details of the case were that he was a passenger in a Lincoln Town Car being driven to Newark International Airport when the driver, Jose Lordello, lost control of the vehicle and veered into a guardrail on the Turnpike near Teaneck. The guardrail then entered the limousine, which struck Sweeney. He then died about 20 minutes later from blunt-force trauma. A lawsuit ensued a month later in Bergen County Superior Court brought to light by Sweeney’s family, who alleged that Lordello was negligent. Claims were later added that the guardrail had a design defect and had been installed too closely to the roadway. There was a discovery made that the rail was eight feet closer to the road than required by the plan.

Air Brook ended up settling for $2.9 million and three other defendants paid a combined $6.85 million. The guardrail installation company paid $4 million on its own behalf to the New Jersey Turnpike authority as well, and $2.25 million came from the engineering firm hired by the state to oversee the project.

A Case Reopened?

In March 18, 2015, in Bergen County, a motion to reopen the case was filed by Sweeney’s lawyers at Nagel Rice in Roseland. In the motion, it was stated that the end treatment on the guardrail was supposed to transfer the kinetic energy of an errant car into deformation energy. This would bring the car to a safe stop, but instead it acted like a bayonet, solely because of material design changes. These changes, which were allegedly brought about to save money, ended up reducing the width of the steel channel behind the railhead. Sweeney’s lawyers expect success from the motion and adding in these additional changes to the case to be heard.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of a defective product or car accident, you may have a case. Once liability is determined, you can go forth with your claim. Contact your attorney at Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi P.C. in New Jersey to see where you stand and get up-to-date with the laws!