A Madison County jury on Tuesday awarded $2,284,500 to Matthew Bruntjen in a week-long trial over a 2009 auto accident caused by an Imo’s pizza delivery driver.
The jury found Bethalto Pizza 70 percent responsible and Imo’s Franchising 30 percent responsible for Bruntjen’s injuries.
Their decision came after nearly eight hours of deliberation.
“We considered all the facts and considered the evidence and just ultimately came to a decision,” said jury foreperson Susan Lauer. “You have 12 people. You have a difference of opinion. I’d do it again, but it was stressful.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Charles Armbruster said the trial was considered a damages-only trial for Bethalto Pizza but not for Imo’s Franchising.
“I think Matt’s family is glad that it’s over,” Armbruster said. “With the jury’s decision, if he gets the money, it’ll be helpful for his family.”
Defense attorney James Craney had no comment.
Jurors broke the award down into six categories. Bruntjen received $750,000 for the disability he experienced, $657,000 for medical expenses, $607,500 for earnings lost, $150,000 for pain and suffering, $100,000 for emotional distress and $20,000 for disfigurement.
Bruntjen was a passenger in a 1995 GMC Safari van that was struck by defendant Kenneth Lyerla’s vehicle on Aug. 17, 2009. Lyerla was delivering pizza for co-defendant Bethalto Pizza, one of Imo’s 94 stores, at the time of the accident.
Bruntjen, a former vacuum cleaner salesman, sustained brain injuries from being hit by a vacuum inside the van.
Lyerla, who has admitted negligence for the accident, had driven his car into the oncoming lane at the intersection of Erwin Plegge Road and Ashbrook Street in Bethalto while making the delivery.
Lyerla was dismissed from the case on Friday, following negotiations between both sets of attorneys.
Armbruster requested the jury award his client $11,253,708 during closing arguments on Monday.
Craney suggested an amount between $500,000-$600,000.
During closing arguments, Armbruster recapped what he had been telling the jury for four days the previous week: that Matthew Bruntjen’s life would never be the same again.
As a result of the accident, Bruntjen suffered damage to his skull and lungs. He suffered bleeding on the brain.
Armbruster claimed Bruntjen’s friends withdrew from him, and his parents would eventually die and not be there for him.
He pointed to the defense table, which seated Imo’s owner Margaret Imo and Bethalto’s Pizza co-owner Annette Wilson.
“Sitting at that table are two corporations,” Armbruster said. “They’re both undeniably responsible for what happened.
“It’s Imo’s right until someone gets hurt. Then it’s not Imo’s.”
The defense countered that Bruntjen is just as employable now as before the accident.
But, Armbruster claimed the best his client can do is work three to nine hours a week at Kohl’s.
“This case had a healthy dose of fiction,” he said. “They suggested Matt had money. Matt’s job prospects are very poor.
“What no judge or jury can do is wave a magic wand and bring Matt back his life. This case is about doing justice.
“At the heart of this case, you have an all-American kid.
“The money you give Matt won’t buy in the future what it will buy today.
“He knows he’s different, and he’s embarrassed. He does the best he can, and still it causes some concern.
“Imo’s and Bethalto share responsibility equally.”
Craney encouraged the jury to look at the plaintiff’s life before and after the accident.
“Is Imo’s Pizza as opposed to the store responsible?” he said.
“There’s a franchise agreement that the responsibility of setting up policies was left up to local stores.”
“I want to focus on what this case is really about. The issue is we need to fully compensate the plaintiff. Bethalto Pizza has admitted it’s responsible for the accident. Let’s look at the actual evidence.
“I asked you before you have to consider what he was like before [the accident.] You heard his mother testify. What were his grades like?”
Craney showed the jury Bruntjen’s high school grade report, which included Fs, withdrawals and an ACT score of 15.
“I don’t mean to attack the plaintiff,” Craney said.
Bruntjen’s father hoped he would get a GED, but Bruntjen didn’t pursue it, according to Craney.
Bruntjen had a job selling vacuum cleaners. His supervisor said Bruntjen returned to work a little too soon, but his ability to sell was the same as before the accident.
“They suggested he made his numbers,” Craney said. “He was getting to the point where he was selling vacuum cleaners.”
Craney reminded jurors that a defense expert witness testified Matt is employable.
Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian presided over the case.