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Trader Joe’s Worker Who Lost Leg on Job Awarded $7m

A Bergen County judge awarded Ruta Fiorino, age 52, of Hillsdale, $7,000,000 in compensation for injuries sustained in a November 2013 motor vehicle incident. Bergen County Superior Court judge Charles E. Powers, Jr., handed down the award on June 20, 2016 following a two-day non-jury trial. As the defendant conceded liability for her negligent driving, the trial focused on Mrs. Fiorino’s permanent and life-changing injuries.

On November 13, 2013, the defendant, an elderly disabled woman, lost control of her car and jumped the curb in from of the Trader Joe’s store in Westwood, New Jersey. The defendant’s car struck Mrs. Fiorino a Trader Joe’s employee, as she was retrieving a shopping cart from the cart corral in front of the store. The force of the impact from the car all but severed Mrs. Fiorino’s right leg just below her knee.

Following a medevac to Hackensack University Medical Center, the trauma and emergency surgeons and specialists tried unsuccessfully to save their patient’s lower leg and knee joint. In the end, Mrs. Fiorino underwent an above the knee amputation.

Ruta “Ruth” Fiorino has undergone 13 surgical procedures and months of painful rehabilitation and physical therapy.  Yet she still fights through her so-called “phantom limb” pain, often with the need for strong and potentially habit forming pain medications.

The wife of New York executive Dean Fiorino and mother to two teen age boys, Ruta’s life changed dramatically. From an active outdoor enthusiast and sportswoman, she now struggles to re-learn how to walk with a succession of hi-tech prosthetic legs. But her new life has also re-focused her on a new personal goal as an advocate for pedestrian safety.

Car on pedestrian incidents are surprisingly frequent. Many shopping mall events are not reported because the pedestrian is not seriously injured. But despite this common knowledge among corporate retailers nationwide, almost nothing is done to address these public safety hazards. There are no Federal, state or municipal laws or ordinances that require retail store operators to protect their customers. What is done is often too little and way too late.

The Fiorino’s lawyer, Sam Davis, who tried the case before Judge Powers, has confirmed an unsettling trend in pedestrian accident cases in his firm’s legal practice. “There are a lot more car -on -pedestrian incidents now than ever before in my almost 40 years of personal injury practice in Bergen County,” Davis said, “And they occur all over in crosswalks, parking lots, and sidewalks.”

“Our investigations have shown that with few exceptions, no one is taking responsibility for these very preventable hazards.” “Ruta was at a food store, another client was sitting eating ice cream at a sidewalk table in Englewood, and many others are struck and injured while crossing streets in the crosswalks with the lights.” “The fact that nothing is being done to protect lives,” Davis says, “is deplorable.”

To its credit, Ruta’s employer Trader Joe’s independently installed safety bollards across the front of its Washington store to protect its customers. This retailer has installed similar barriers in other of its stores. But this was a purely voluntary action by this national chain, and it is a rarity among United States retail giants. Apart from the obvious, but relatively modest cost of retrofitting store fronts for pedestrian safety, retailers may see these changes as bad for business. Safety barriers interrupt the flow of customers in and out of a store, or they may interfere with the flow of cars through adjacent parking lots.

Ruta Fiorino has now taken up public awareness of pedestrian safety as her own cause celebre. “What happened to me, could happen to anyone,” she said. “Shoppers and all pedestrians have the right to be safe, especially on sidewalks and other areas designated for pedestrians.” “My injury was preventable.”

“Focusing on consumer safety in a “bricks and mortar” retail community can also make sound economic sense. With more and more consumers opting for Internet purchases, a fear for personal safety is just one more thing that may keep people out of our local stores and on their computers.” And that, she said, is bad for our towns’ future.

Ruta "Ruth" Fiorino

Click to read more: Trader Joe’s worker who lost leg on job awarded $7M