Man hurt in crash awarded $31.25M


News Tribune Online 06/12/07

By KEN SERRANO
STAFF WRITER

MIDDLESEX COUNTY  A $31.25 million settlement has been reached in the case of a former Cook College student who was severely disfigured in a fiery crash when a tow truck rear-ended his car on Route 1 in Woodbridge in September 2001.

Richard Douglas Cannon, now 27, was driving from his home in Rahway to the college when his 1984 Ford Mustang broke down in the middle lane of Route 1 on Sept. 6, 2001, said Cannon's attorney, Alfred Dimiero of Summit.

A tow-truck driver for E&D Auto Repair in Parlin, now defunct, was heading to help a motorist on behalf of AAA and crashed into the Mustang.

The Mustang's gas tank exploded and the car burst into flames, leaving Cannon with third-degree burns on 58 percent of his body, Dimiero said.

During the trial, Dimiero argued that the tow-truck driver, Gerard Taber, became distracted by an onboard AAA computer.

Dimiero and another attorney in the case confirmed the reported settlement figures yesterday.

Of that amount, AAA Central West Jersey and AAA Mid-Atlantic, now merged, have agreed to pay $27.25 million.

The insurance company for the tow-truck company and driver, Harleysville Insurance, settled for the maximum coverage amount of $2 million. And the Campana Systems, which sold the on-board computer to AAA, agreed to pay $2 million.

Attorneys for Campana and the automobile association did not return calls.

The settlement was reached before jurors began deliberations in the case.

Because not all parties had settled, the jury reached a verdict anyway, deeming that the pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life amounted to $12 million, according to court documents.

The towing company and driver and AAA Mid-Atlantic were the only defendants found liable.

The jury of seven men and three woman deliberated for three and a half days, Dimiero said. The trial in Superior Court, New Brunswick, before Judge Bryan Garruto lasted nine weeks, ending Friday.

Ford Motor Co. was dismissed as a defendant in the case.