Opening arguments begin in Imo's pizza delivery accident

Christina Stueve Dec. 7, 2011, 3:51am





Opening arguments started Tuesday in a personal injury case in Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian's courtroom over a 2009 two-car collision involving a pizza delivery driver and the man who was injured as a result of the accident.

Plaintiff Matthew Bruntjen is suing Bethalto Pizza, an Imo's franchise, and Imo's after being permanently injured by one of its drivers, Kenneth Lyerla.

Bruntjen was a passenger in a 1995 GMC Safari that was westbound on Erwin Plegge Boulevard at the intersection of Ashbrook Street in Bethalto where the accident happened.

Plaintiff's attorney Charles Armbruster said he hopes to prove Lyerla was more concerned with the timely delivery of his customer's pizza than with traffic safety.

"You are never allowed to place timely deliveries above safety," he told the jury.

Armbruster informed the jury that Imo's created a corporate policy that rewards delivery drivers for speeding and that Imo's allegedly made the Bethalto delivery area larger than other stores did. Bethalto Pizza is named in the case, for encouraging fast delivery over safety, Armbruster said.

"Imo's is responsible for Kenneth's conduct," Armbruster said. "Imo's wants its name everywhere until something happens, and then it distances itself from its stores."

Bruntjen, a door-to-door vacuum salesman for Kirby, was in the backseat of a van when he was hit by a loose vacuum cleaner upon impact.

"People will tell you he had blood oozing from his nose and left ears," Armbruster said. He also said that Bruntjen suffered a depressed skull fracture after his head was struck by a vacuum cleaner.

Bruntjen had plates and screws implanted in his brain after the left brain compressed the right side of his brain, Armbruster said.

He also suffered bruising to his lungs that required a chest tube, Armbruster said.

He went on to say that Bruntjen, who constantly moves his legs up and down, can't sit still after the accident. He is unable to focus. He can't be left alone for long periods of time. Before the crash, Bruntjen was popular, now he is becoming isolated, Armbruster said.

After the accident, he remembers waking up, strapped to the bed, not being able to communicate with anyone verbally, Armbruster said.

One of the top salesmen for Kirby distributorship, Bruntjen could convince people to buy a $2,000 vacuum cleaner, Armbruster said.

"Matt had a great potential in sales," he said. "He found his nitch in life," but "the person inside him isn't the same person who went to work that day."

Defense attorney James Craney countered in his opening statement that Imo's did not have a "culture of speed delivery."

The Bethalto store essentially operated on its own, he said.

"The driver has admitted negligence," he said. "We won't dispute that Matt had a skull fracture.

"The issue is what is this case about? What is a normal life like for Matthew Bruntjen?"

Bruntjen had a history of behavior problems, Craney said.

"You're going to hear evidence about why he dropped out of high school," Armbruster said.

"They're claiming he became impulsive after the accident. You'll hear he was impulsive before the accident. You'll hear his mother say he was impulsive after the accident.

"Matt's supervisor will tell you his ability to sell was just as good after the accident. Why did he stop working at Kirby?" Craney said.

Though Armbruster had said Bruntjen wanted to become an engineer, Craney told the jury "Matt had no intention of becoming an engineer."

"The issue is 'what was life like for Matt before the accident?" Craney said. "What is his current condition? What is his wage loss? We don't dispute the injuries. He should be compensated for those."

Defense attorney Mike Hobin told jurors Bruntjen was not as damaged as he claimed to be. "Matt made a good recovery," he said.

Lyerla, 21, the Imo's delivery driver, admitted he was responsible for the accident.

Defense attorney Gregory Odom II asked Lyerla, "Were you ever disciplined for not delivering a pizza on time?"

Lyerla said, "No."

Five of the seven original defendants in the case, including Kenneth Lyerla, Lisa Lyerla, Jeremiah Greene, Jason Yelton and Metro-East Distributing, were all dismissed from the case Tuesday.

The case is Madison Case number 10-L-577.

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