Jury in pizza delivery case sent home; Plaintiff asks for $11 million
Madison County jurors were sent home after 5 p.m. Monday after deliberating for nearly four hours in a trial involving a 2009 auto accident caused by an Imo's pizza delivery driver.
The case involves plaintiff Matthew Bruntjen who 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's attorney Charles Armbruster requested the jury award his client $11,253,708.
"This case had more tragedy than any man should have to endure," Armbruster said.
Armbruster recapped what he had been telling the jury for four days last week: that Matthew Bruntjen's life will 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 claims 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"
During closing arguments, defense attorney James Craney recommended the jury compensate Bruntjen with $500,000-$600,000.
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.
"We know Matt's girlfriend's parents didn't want her seeing Matt," Craney said.
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.
The jury is expected to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian presides.