From bankruptcy to millions: Ironworker injured at Downtown Jersey City high-rise project wins seven-figure judgment

An ironworker’s injury at a Downtown Jersey City high-rise construction project in 2017 left him unable to work. Living off a monthly $2,688 worker’s compensation check, he and his wife filed for bankruptcy two years later.

But Donald Hoiland’s financial outlook took a meteoric upturn when a Hudson County jury awarded him $5.3 million in compensatory damages, his attorney, Gerald Clark of the Clark Law Firm, said this week.

Hoiland was injured Nov. 2, 2017, at the 235 Grand St. construction site while working for the project’s general contractor, AJD Construction Co., according to court documents. Two years later Hoiland filed the lawsuit against AJD, the developer and other companies working on the $289 million project, dubbed 235 Grand, at the site of the former Hudson County Boys and Girls Club.

Hoiland and his wife filed for bankruptcy the same year. According to court documents, Hoiland had earned nearly $75,000 as an ironworker in 2017.

“We are pleased with the result obtained, which is rather modest given the trial proofs,” Clark said in a statement. “The insurance company and the lawyers they hired to represent the defendant fought us tooth and nail during the five years of this litigation and through trial where they seemingly objected to everything.

“This drove up our costs and time commitment in the case, but neither our firm nor our client would break. Our faith in the system was reaffirmed by a jury that was able to see through the defense trial tactics and render adequate justice.”

The verdict was first reported by New Jersey Law Journal.

According to the lawsuit and court documents, Hoiland was walking on the access road at the construction site to show a driver where to stage a delivery of rebar when he stumbled over a chunk of concrete that was protruding from the ground and fell awkwardly, injuring his back. Hoiland was taken to a local hospital, where he remained for several days.

Hoiland’s attorney argued at trial that it had been alleged that in order to maximize profits, AJD had the prior demolished building used as fill on the site, leaving large chunks of concrete, wood, and glass strewn about the site, including on the job access road.

Clark says AJD received several complaints in the prior weeks about the poor condition of the road from the demolished building material causing workers to trip. Clark said AJD ignored the complaints and refused to have the road graded out to save about $2,000.

Hoiland sustained severe herniated discs in his lower back at two levels in the fall and eventually had decompression surgery in March 2018. Several more surgeries, including a spinal fusion with implanted hardware, followed and Hoiland had a permanent spinal cord stimulator implanted in his spine to help alleviate the pain, Clark said.

A jury of four men and four women rendered a compensatory verdict on Sept. 25, finding AJD Construction 80% at fault for the incident. The jury also ascribed 20% comparative negligence against the plaintiff.

The jury awarded $462,370 for past medical expenses, $61,139 for future medical expenses, $180,950 for past lost wages, $885,709 for future lost wages and more than $2.6 million for past and future pain, suffering, disability and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded $528,000 for the spousal loss claim to Hoiland’s wife. The jury declined to assess punitive damages against the defendant.

“I’m glad we were able to obtain a jury verdict to compensate Don for everything he and his family have suffered and will continue to suffer,” said Lazaro Berenguer, co-counsel for Hoiland.