Not so fast! NJ court takes away biker’s record $20.2M jury accident award
A Sussex County couple could lose the record-breaking $20.2 million verdict awarded by a jury for injuries the man suffered in a 2010 motorcycle accident.
The plaintiff, Steven Visaggio, claimed he suffered devastating permanent shoulder and spine problems from falling off his Harley-Davidson and landing with the motorcycle on top of him.
But the defendant in the case, Kurt Dorthe, argued in an appeal that the verdict was excessive and a miscarriage of justice.
A three-judge appellate panel on Thursday agreed with Dorthe, overturning the verdict and sending the case back for a new trial.
While the extent of Visaggio’s injuries were disputed, the accident was not.
Visaggio, 53 at the time, was stopped at a red light on Route 23 in Sussex Borough on March 20, 2010. Dorthe, then 19, was stopped in a pickup truck behind Visaggio.
When the light turned green, Dorthe took his foot off the brake and accidentally rolled into Visaggio’s bike.
The appellate decision on Thursday said Dorthe was deprived of “a fair trial and resulted in a verdict grossly disproportionate to the injuries.”
The decision says the trial judge was wrong not to allow undercover video and photos of a man believed to be Visaggio working for several hours on a roof three years after the accident.
The video shows the man repeatedly going up and down a ladder, at one point carrying a large plywood board with his hand and shoulder.
Visaggio was a home improvement contractor.
The appellate panel also faulted the judge for scolding the defense attorney in front of the jury and for restricting his cross-examinations.
The trial judge also allowed the couple to testify at length about adopting a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. The child, however, was 22 at the time of the trial.
Although Visaggio did not assert a claim for lost wages or medical expenses, the jury awarded him $15.5 million for pain and suffering alone.
His wife, who was not on the bike, was awarded another $3.8 million for her claim as a spouse. Additional interest and attorney fees and costs made the settlement the highest in 2014.
In the appeal, Dorthe was represented by Stephen A. Rudolph of Rudolph & Kayal in Sea Girt. Vissagio was represented by Andrew A. Fraser of Laddey, Clark & Ryan in Sparta.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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