Mays Landing Woman who Lost Leg in Expressway Crash Wins $8.7 Million

By MICHAEL MILLER, Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 ATLANTIC CITY — A Mays Landing woman whose leg was severed in a 2005 Atlantic City Expressway accident has been awarded $8.7 million. Janet Henebema, a dealer at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, won her civil case Tuesday against two public agencies that failed to respond quickly to a multi-car pileup on the expressway. A civil jury in state Superior Court in Atlantic City ordered the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the New Jersey State Police to pay Henebema, 37, after determining that it took more than 30 minutes for them to respond despite at least eight 911 calls about multiple crashes. Henebema was driving home early on the morning of Dec. 4, 2005, after finishing her shift at the Borgata. She was unaware that she was approaching a multi-car pileup that was growing bigger by the minute, despite at least eight 911 calls alerting dispatchers at the SJTA that the accident scene was growing larger, said her lawyer, Ralph Paolone, of Linwood. When she crossed the Garden State Parkway overpass westbound near milepost 7 in Egg Harbor Township at about 4:30 a.m., she struck a patch of black ice that had caused the first of two other drivers to crash into a barrier 37 minutes earlier. A third vehicle, an emergency van operated by AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, had come upon the two-car pileup and parked in front of the two disabled cars with its emergency lights flashing. Henebema’s lawyer said she saw the flashing lights and was able to slow her vehicle, but struck one of the disabled cars with enough force that her airbags inflated. Dazed but not seriously hurt, Henebema got out of her car and began walking to the shoulder of the road when Domenico Raddi, an off-duty Atlantic City police officer on his way home from work, crested the overpass and struck the same patch of black ice. His vehicle struck Henebema, severing her right leg. The jury decided the SJTA was 80 percent responsible for the accident. The State Police were 20 percent culpable. The jury found that none of the drivers — including Raddi — could have avoided the accident and were held blameless in Henebema’s lawsuit. Paolone said 37 minutes passed between the time the first vehicle struck black ice and crashed and Raddi’s vehicle hit the same patch of ice. The South Jersey Transportation Authority, which represented the State Police in the lawsuit, plans to appeal the jury’s verdict, spokeswoman Sharon Gordon said. The authority oversees the Atlantic City Expressway, the Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City International Airport. “Obviously, we’re going to appeal it. There are some other issues that surround the case,” she said. Gordon said she could not address the specifics of the civil complaint. But she said both State Police and the authority’s emergency service workers patrol the Atlantic City Expressway at all hours to keep motorists safe. “We have 66 million vehicles that travel our roadway each year,” she said. “We are confident our roadway is monitored, and we have technology we’ll implement and a new operations center that will create more monitoring of the roadway.” A snowstorm that morning in 2005 created hazardous driving conditions across southern New Jersey. Even as Henebema was leaving Atlantic City, State Police were responding to an unrelated fatal accident at milepost 16 of the Atlantic City Expressway. Paolone said the SJTA dispatcher never informed the state troopers that the disabled vehicles from the pileup were still in the roadway, posing an imminent danger to other drivers. Without this critical information, troopers gave priority to the fatal crash and a third disabled vehicle that was safely off the road at milepost 35, Paolone said. “I don’t think the jury felt the road troopers did anything wrong. They faulted the SJTA dispatchers for not broadcasting the call and not updating the troopers so they could have made a better decision,” Paolone said. Meanwhile, the authority’s dispatchers declined help from police in Egg Harbor Township, who were monitoring the growing pileup at milepost 7 and volunteered their assistance, Paolone said. “Their dispatchers called the expressway dispatchers at 4:10 a.m. saying, ‘Do you need any help?”” Paolone said. The first police troopers arrived at the pileup at 4:39 a.m. Henebema spent six weeks in a hospital. She was permanently disabled from her injury and uses a prosthetic leg. Paolone said she continues to work at the Borgata but cut back her workweek. She also asked her mother to move in with her to help with her three children, he said. Henebema through her attorney declined to comment on the jury’s verdict.

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