March 4, 2011
DANBURY -- Dennis Janson of Ridgefield, an acoustic engineer, studio designer and architect, won $1.5 million in a personal injury case Friday -- primarily because of hearing loss he suffered when, according to his complaint, the tire on his Jeep Wrangler exploded in 2007 while Janson knelt near it.
Antonio Ponvert III, Janson's lawyer, said the award is one of the largest for a personal injury suit ever meted out at Danbury Superior Court.
He said his client, while still able to work as an acoustic engineer and studio designer, is "unable to enjoy life the way he used to" because of his hearing loss and the tinnitus -- constant ringing in his ears.
"I am pleased that the jury made such a fair decision, and that our judicial system works," Janson said Friday He also praised Ponvert, saying, "Our counsel did a wonderful job."
However, James Daley, the owner of the Danbury company that sold Janson the wheel -- Extreme Vehicle Builders, which is owned by J.D.O.R.A.P. Inc -- said Friday he will appeal the decision. Extreme Vehicle Builders and J.D.O.R.A.P. Inc. were listed as the defendants in the civil suit.
"I'm fully sympathetic that he was injured," Daley said. "But this is excessive."
In his complaint in the case, Ponvert said that on Feb. 25, 2007, Extreme Vehicle Builders installed four wheels on Janson's Jeep Wrangler. Daley said Friday the wheels are for "extreme off-road" tires. Janson paid $2,635 for the wheels and their installation, and drove the vehicle without problems for about four months, the complaint said.
But on June 17, 2007, the complaint said, while Janson was checking the bolts on the right front tire, the wheel's bead-lock rim sheared off at a weld joint.
"The tire exploded," Ponvert said Friday.
The force of the explosion knocked Janson backward into a stone wall, the complaint said, injuring both his hands. Ponvert said there is permanent ligament damage to one of Janson's hands, forcing him to wear a cast on it.
More serious, Ponvert said, is Janson's hearing loss.
The compliant said the accident caused "acute acoustic trauma" to Janson's hearing, causing permanent loss of hearing in his left ear, tinnitus, and loss of high-frequency hearing in both ears.
The complaint said the explosion "has interfered and will continue to interfere with his ability to perform his job and to maintain his standing in the acoustic design industry," caused a "permanent diminution" of his earnings, "irreparable destruction of his personal and professional reputation as a world-class acoustic designer" and architect, and harmed Janson's personal life, including his ability to sleep.
Ponvert said, however, that Janson has returned to work and is "just as able" to do his work as before the accident.
Daley said Friday that while he installed the wheels, he did not manufacture them. The manufacturer is out of business, he said, However, the suit claimed that the weld on the wheel was defective and because Extreme Vehicle Builders sold it, it is liable for the accident.
Daley said Friday that, in his opinion, the accident occurred because Janson applied too much torque to one of the bolts on the wheel. He also said he would not characterize what happened as an explosion, saying is was more akin to the release of air in a tire shop when a tire gets changed.
Daley said he had hearing experts who were willing to testify about whether Janson's hearing loss was as severe as Ponvert claimed. However, he said, Ponvert was able to block them from testifying.
And, Daley said, Janson spent another $10,000 at Extreme Vehicle Builders after the accident.
"If we're so bad, why did he continue to do business with us?" Daley said.