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Retailer Wins Jury Verdict after Plaintiff’s Grout Story Fails to Hold Water

Case Study

Retailer Wins Jury Verdict after Plaintiff’s Grout Story Fails to Hold Water

An ugly dust-up over a 10-pound bag of grout turned messy for a plaintiff whose ever-changing story left leaky gaps in his credibility, helping Goldberg Segalla partners Thomas M. Crino and Thaddeus J Hubert IV seal the case cleanly for their client.

The melee occurred in a New Jersey retail store where an employee said the plaintiff insulted him after trying to answer the man’s questions about grout. The worker said he walked away following the put-down, but was followed by the plaintiff who then threw the bag of grout at him.

The bag missed the worker and instead hit a shelf behind him, causing it to explode and leaving the employee’s head, neck and shoulder covered in grout. When the worker turned around to see what happened, the plaintiff was then approaching him, so the employee used a push broom he was holding to fend off the man, striking him on side of the head. The worker then ran away in to a back room.

Police responded to the business and interviewed the plaintiff and employee, recording the conversations on their body cameras. The plaintiff told various versions about what happened, first claiming that during the verbal confrontation the employee pushed him causing the grout bag to rip, adding the employee then struck him in the head with the broom.

Seeing that grout was smeared all over the head and neck of the employee and that the plaintiff had none on him, police decided they weren’t being told the truth and stepped up their questioning of the plaintiff. The plaintiff denied throwing the grout, and stuck to his story. Yet, while doing so, he at one point smiled and laughed on camera — a faux pas that Ted and Tom gladly noted to the jury that one should probably not do during police questioning.

Claiming he suffered a double cervical fusion as a result of the incident that left him permanently disabled and that he could never work again, the plaintiff initially demanded $4 million in compensation.

As discovery progressed over a three-year span, the plaintiff changed his story multiple times —in an amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and in his deposition. Then, a few months before trial, the ex-fiancé of the plaintiff’s brother-in-law contacted Tom and provided him with photographs of the plaintiff on a dirt bike, an ATV, climbing an extension ladder, and even using a chain saw. She also provided text messages that showed the plaintiff was doing home renovation despite claims he was permanently disabled and could no longer work.

A Middlesex County Superior Court judge allowed that evidence to be shown to the jury during the liability phase.

Plaintiff subsequently reduced his demand to $1 million on the day of the trial.

Tom and Ted used the photographs and texts to successfully challenge the plaintiff’s truthfulness and credibility, helping them to secure a defense verdict for their client.

The two partners noted the win was a “total team effort,” pointing to the critical work also performed by Goldberg Segalla attorneys Leo Capoferri and Daniel T. Sagan, who researched complex legal issues, and drafted and opposed several in-limine motions.