October 20, 2003- Store Pays $800,000 to Customer for Claimed Spinal Injuries From Fall

A supermarket owner agreed on Sept. 29 to pay $800,000 to a patron who said she suffered a herniated disk slipping on an unknown substance in the detergent aisle.

Gina Coulson, now 34, reported the Nov. 28, 1997, accident at the Foodtown of West End in Long Branch the same day and then went to the hospital, where she was told she needed two surgeries, says the plaintiff's co-counsel, Bruce Stern, a partner in Princeton's Stark & Stark.

Coulson also aggravated a pre-existing congenital inflammation of the brain stem, known as a Chiari I malformation, says Stern, who was brought in to try the case by co-counsel Samuel Vacchiano of the Robert Olkowitz firm in Red Bank.

The case settled two weeks before a scheduled trial in Middlesex County. At trial, the plaintiff and the defense, represented by Stephen Spudic of Freehold's Britt, Riehl & Spudic, would have presented conflicting evidence on whether the pre-existing condition would have required surgery without the slip.

They also disagreed on Foodtown's spill-detection system. Spudic says the store had a practice of inspecting aisles every 60 minutes, but Stern says his expert was prepared to testify there was no written policy to that effect as required by industry standards.

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