Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eatontown pays $200,000 to settle police negligence suit

On January 25, 2010, the Borough of Eatontown (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $200,000 to the family of a woman who sued members of the Eatontown Police Department for allegedly failing to warn her about a hazardous road condition that resulted in the woman's death.

In their suit, the parents of Allison M. Lynman, then 19, said that their daughter lost control of her car after hitting a large body of water that accumulated on Route 35. Her car collided with a utility pole causing her to sustain fatal injuries.

Her family alleges that prior to the accident, Eatontown Patrolman Robert Green had been dispatched to the Route 35 location by Patrolman James DiGiovanni after DiGiovanni received a report that the road was flooded and represented a dangerous condition. According to the lawsuit, Green went to the site and observed "the accumulation of at least two (2) to three (3) inches of water on both northbound laes of travel of Route 35 and the shoulder of the roadway."

Green then allegedly reported the flood condition to DeGiovanni and the left the scene "without attempting to correct the dangerous condition or warn the public of its existence." DiGiovanni then allegedly took no further action except to notify the State Department of Transportation of the flooding.

The suit alleges that both DiGiovanni and Green breached their duty to warn Lynam of the dangerous condition and that this failure was the proximate cause of her death. Press reports indicate that in addition to the $200,000 paid by Eatontown, the New Jersey Department of Transportation also contributed $10,000 to the settlement.

The case is captioned the Lynam v. Eatontown, Docket No. MON-L-4522-04 and the Lynams' attorney was James A. Maggs of Brielle. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the Lynams' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Eatontown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Eatontown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Lynams $200,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.