Newark Bus Crash Victims Suing NJTransit for $115 Million

Monday, 12 December 2016 17:53 Walter Elliott


The legal aftermath of the Aug. 19 bus collision that killed two people and injured 17 others here officially met its first legal deadline Nov. 19.  

It appears that 14 of the 17 passengers aboard the northbound No. 13 bus, plus the family of the one passenger that was killed, have filed public notices against New Jersey Transit before the Nov. 19 deadline of their intent to sue the statewide public transportation carrier on or after Feb. 19.

The 14 passengers plus the late Jesy Garcia's heirs are asking for an overall $115 million in damages, in part to cover for what one attorney called "catastrophic" injuries. The damages are to also cover past hospitalization plus, in some claimant's cases, continuing physical therapy.

The notices, as revealed in a Dec. 2 OPRA filing request, also names No. 13 driver James Roberts, the late No. 59 driver Joseph Barthelus and NJTransit's insurance carrier as respondents.

Barthelus, of Union, was driving west on Raymond Boulevard when he broadsided Roberts' northbound No. 13 bus head-on at the Broad Street intersection at 6:02 a.m. that Friday. Both drivers were running similar NJTransit owned and operated NABI buses.

The impact closed a nine block area around Broad and Raymond for seven hours. Thousands of bus riders, motorists and those on NJTransit's Newark Light Rail/City Subway had their commutes disrupted, detoured and delayed.

Barthelus, who was about to begin his first No. 59 run from Washington Park, died at the scene.

Garcia was among several passengers aboard Roberts' Irvington-to-Clifton run that had to be extricated by first responders. The Newark grandmother and factory worker died later that day in a local hospital.

Attorneys representing some of the 15 plaintiffs filed their notices in accordance with the New Jersey Tort Claims Law. The statute also grants a six-month waiting period since the injurious incident before filing an actual suit in state civil or chancery court.

The plaintiffs hope that an Essex County Prosecutor's Office investigation will conclude and reveal its findings between now and Feb. 19. The ECPO Major Crimes Task Force probe, launched any time there is a homicide among its 22 towns, is continuing as of press time.

The actual lawsuits, whether individual or in a class action, have until Aug. 18, 2018 to be filed.

Attorneys will seek to prove at least two grounds before a civil judge.

The first ground is that their clients have suffered permanent injuries or injuries severe enough to incur pain and suffering, extensive surgery and therapy beyond broken arms or legs.

A Newark lawyer said that his client had to learn to walk again after breaking her pelvis, back and neck. A second passenger has lost full use of his right foot since nerves in his right leg had been severed.

The second ground is to show that NJTransit and/or its employees were "palpably negligent" or displayed willful misconduct in operation or maintenance.

The $115 million in claim damages are comparable to $21 million NJTransit and its insurance carrier had to pay out in 2014 for three bus incidents going back to 2011.

A state court awarded $10 million to Angelique Baker after an NJTransit bus ran over her in East Orange in 2011. Baker had freed her purse strap from a closed bus door, only to fall beneath the bus. The bus ran over her, crushing her legs, pelvis and an arm.

Barker's $10 million award was the single largest of 68.8 million in state payouts in 2014.

Pedestrian June Layne received $4.5 million after a 2011 bus accident at Lyons and Maple Avenue. She has been receiving ongoing care for extensive leg injuries after she was trapped by the bus' rear wheels.

Three of the top 10 state payouts in 2013 involved NJTransit. A third woman received $6.5 million fir losing her lower right leg in a Paterson bus mishap.

NJTransit's legal department are also receiving tort notices from among the 114 injured passengers and heirs of a Hoboken woman in the wake of the Sept. 29 train crash in Hoboken Terminal.

At least five of the passengers have filed before their Dec. 29 deadline. Claimed injuries included a severed middle right finger, back and leg injuries, vision loss and concussions. Two of the five are represented by another Newark attorney.

The Pascack Valley Line No. 1614 case is different in large part because the National Transportation Safety Board is the Sept. 29 crash's lead investigator.

NJTransit's general counsel may mention the number of tort claims filed at the Dec. 13 board of directors meeting here at One Penn Plaza. NJTransit otherwise refrains from publicly discussing its ongoing legal matters.

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