Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Perth Amboy school board pays $199,999 to settle teacher's sex assault claim

On March 26, 2014, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $199,999 to a female teacher who claimed that school district officials did not take proper action after she was sexually assaulted by another teacher in her classroom.

In her suit, Kara Sakowski said that on February 22, 2010, she was in her Robert N. Wilentz School classroom when Eric Combs, a permanent substitute teacher for the school district, came in and "closed the door, causing it to become locked from the outside."  She claimed that Combs "grabbed her violently, picked her off of the floor and slammed her against a concrete wall" and then proceeded to commit "various unwelcome sexual acts . .  , including, but not limited to, forcefully kissing her and fondling her breasts, legs and groin area."

Sakowski claimed that she went to the school office to report the incident to Principal Roland Jenkins and Vice-Principal Thomas Zmigrodski, but that both were unavailable.  She said that after another teacher, Mary Griffin, interceded on her behalf she had a meeting with Jenkins and Zmigrodski.  Sakowski claimed that neither man contacted the police but simply sent her back to her classroom.  According to the lawsuit, Jenkins and Zmigrodski recalled Sakowski to Jenkins' office where Combs was "made to apologize" to her.  Jenkins allegedly said that "he did not believe it was necessary to contact the police for Mr. Combs' sexual assault and battery" but that "if it happened again, he would support her going to the police." Zmigrodski allegedly stated to Sakowski that he hoped that they could put the incident behind them and let "by-gones be by-gones."

Two days after the incident, Sakowski claimed, she went to see William Stratton, head of the school board's Human Resources Department, who said that "he needed to contact the police."

The case is captioned Sakowski v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-418.11 and Sakowski's attorney was Steven T. Sullivan, Jr. of Red Bank.  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 Sakowski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $199,999 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Perth Amboy school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sakowski $199,999 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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ocean City pays $75,000 to settle boardwalk trip and fall suit

On March 6, 2014, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a Linwood woman who sued the City after tripping and falling on the boardwalk.

In her suit, Sandra Wilkinson said that "dangerous, protruding board(s) and/or nail(s)" on the boardwalk at 6th Street caused her fall on September 21, 2010 and that she suffered serious injury.

The case is captioned Wilkinson v. Ocean City, Superior Court Docket No. CPM-L-383-11 and Wilkinson's attorney was Robert N. Braker of Marlton.  Case documents are on-line here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Perth Amboy pays $15,000 to settle breach of contract suit filed by former city official.

On April 9, 2014, the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) resolved to pay $15,000 to its former Executive Director of General Government who sued the City in 2012 for failing or refusing to pay her incremental pay increases that were set forth in her contract.

In her suit, Helga Van Eckert, who now resides in Palm Coast, Florida, said that she worked as the City's Executive Director of General Government, as well as Executive Director of the Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency, since 2000.  She claimed that during her final four year contract, which covered 2008 through 2012, she had negotiated for "percentage pay increases over her base salary" which were never paid by the City.  She also alleged that during the contract Mayor Wilda Diaz asked her to take on additional responsibilities in exchange for an additional $10,000 in salary.  She said that she performed the extra work but was never paid the additional $10,000.

The case is captioned Van Eckert v. Perth Amboy, Docket No. MID-L-7542-12 and Van Eckert's attorney was Steven D. Chan of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Van Eckert's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Perth Amboy or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Van Eckert $15,000 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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hammonton pays $70,000 to settle claim that police subjected man to dog bite.

On March 25, 2014, the Town of Hammonton (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $70,000 to a Collings Lake man who sued members of the Hammonton Police Department for allegedly directing a police dog "to attack and repeatedly bite" him.

In his suit, Robert Keeler said that on April 8, 2009, he was falsely stopped, searched and detained by Officers Tom Percodani and Richard Jones.  Keeler said that despite a lawful basis to detain or arrest him, the officers turned the dog on him which constituted "police brutality and assault and battery." He alleged that out of the five criminal complaints filed against him, four were downgraded to disorderly persons charges and one was administratively dismissed.

Named in the settlement but not the suit was Hammonton Police Corporal James Pinto.

The case is captioned Keeler v. Hammonton, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-02745 and Keeler's attorney was Jerry C. Goldhagen of Linwood.  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 Keeler's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $70,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hammonton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hammonton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Keeler $70,000 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.