The firm procured a $1 million dollar settlement for its client. However, one issue in the case remains to be decided by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Johnson vs. Roselle EZ Quick, LLC, et. al., Docket #: 07504.
Karon Johnson, who was 20 years old, purchased a bottle of vodka from a liquor store. He drank the liquor and ran his vehicle through a fence and into a tree receiving serious injuries and becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Since he was allowed to purchase alcohol despite being underaged, the firm asserted a claim against the package store. There were no witnesses to the purchase, and Johnson did not have a receipt. Any video of the transaction was recycled prior to the date the firm was retained to represent Johnson. The liquor store denied making the sale. However, the firm’s investigation revealed several people who had purchased liquor, while underage, from the same liquor store. The insurance company for the defendant offered the full liquor liability policy, in the amount of $1,000,000.00 in settlement which Johnson agreed to accept. However, Geico Insurance Company which provided no-fault medical insurance covering the vehicle Johnson was operating at the time of the accident, had paid $250,000.00 of Johnson’s medical bills. Geico asserted a claim to “claw back” the $250,000.00 in medical benefits paid from the settlement proceeds, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1. The disputed funds were placed in escrow pending the Court’s determination of the issue.
After Johnson’s accident the New Jersey Legislature amended the law to prevent a no-fault insurer from “clawing back” no-fault benefits where an injured person was not “fully compensated” by the available liability insurance proceeds. The Legislature did not explicitly indicate whether the statutory amendment applied to cases which were pending or only to “new” accidents which occurred after the date the amendment was passed into law. After obtaining transcripts of the legislative hearings Mescall & Acosta argued that the Legislature intended the amendment to be “retroactive” and apply to cases which were pending, such as Johnson’s, at the time the amendment became law. The case has proceed through both the Law Division and the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. Mescall & Acosta and counsel for Geico have both filed their briefs with the New Jersey Supreme Court. It is expected that the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Spring of 2015 and decide the case. If Mescall & Acosta prevail, Mr. Johnson will receive his entire settlement which will be placed into a “Special Needs Trust” to assist in paying for the ongoing care which his medical condition requires.