Gonzales city employees’ wrecks result in 2 lawsuits

The city of Gonzales is facing lawsuits in 23rd Judicial District Court stemming from two traffic incidents last year involving city employees.

Debra Jarrow filed suit last month against the city, the Gonzales Police Department and Officer Kenneth Stell stemming from an April 2, 2012, wreck on La. 3038, while Jason Gonzales filed suit in February against the city, its insurance carrier and a city employee after a Dec. 5 wreck on La. 30.

According to Jarrow’s suit, filed by her attorney, Larry Guy, of Baton Rouge, Jarrow was driving a 2006 Ford Escape when she started to slow down near a railroad crossing on La. 3038 in Ascension Parish. Her vehicle was struck from behind by Stell’s police vehicle, causing “serious, painful and potentially disabling injuries,” the suit says.

Guy said he didn’t expect Jarrow’s case to involve a large amount of damages, though if she receives a permanent disability determination from a physician, that could change. According to an MRI, he said, Jarrow suffered a herniated disc during the wreck that is pinching a nerve in her lower back.

That type of injury can “cause a numbing, tingling and irritating sensation,” he said. “It can run down the legs, the back of the foot and maybe even the toes. It can be highly annoying.”

Gonzales’ suit, which was filed by his attorney, Christian Shofstahl, of Mandeville, claims Gonzales drove his 2006 Ford F-150 into the turning lane on La. 30 to make a left turn onto La. 44 when his pickup was “violently struck” by a city truck driven by utility operator Rusievelt T. Vessel Jr. The suit claims Vessel was “improperly using the center turn lane to pass traffic” when he struck Gonzales’ vehicle.

Rusievelt T. Vessel Jr. is the brother of Gonzales City Councilman Tim Vessel.

The suit alleges Gonzales suffered “disabling and permanent injuries to his neck” as well as injuries to his knee and other parts of his body during the wreck.

A message left at Shofstahl’s law office Wednesday morning was not immediately returned.

Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said the lawsuits were in their “preliminary stages” and referred further queries on the lawsuits to Karen White, an attorney with the Louisiana Municipal Association. LMA is the owner of the city’s liability insurance company, Risk Management Inc.

White confirmed the cases are still in the very early stages of litigation, but she said she wasn’t even sure at this time what the plaintiffs’ injury claims are.

“We are in the course of doing initial discovery, and then we’ll go from there,” White said.

No hearings have yet been scheduled in either case, she added.

Generally speaking, White said, about 60 percent to 75 percent of all personal injury cases filed against municipalities are settled out of court. However, she said, it’s too early at this point to tell how the Jarrow and Gonzales cases will proceed.

“We have to assess the cost of litigation,” White said. “My job is not only to zealously represent municipalities, but also to take into consideration these are tax dollars being used to provide defense.”