Television interviews a hiker did in the days after his 20-foot fall off a cliff in Hartshorne Woods Park thwarted his attempt to get extra time to sue Monmouth County, according to a New Jersey Appellate Court ruling.
James Prudenciano made headlines in 2019 when a feature on his Apple watch detected the fall and called 911 with his location. But the fall also resulted in serious injuries that Prudenciano claims were caused because the trails in Hartshorne Woods were poorly maintained, marked and lit.
Monmouth County argued — and two courts agreed — that the media attention was proof that Prudenciano shouldn't get extra time to file his lawsuit against the county.
Prudenciano's attorney, Andrew B. Smith, said he was disappointed by the decision, but has not discussed yet with his client whether to appeal the case further.
"This case just highlights the need for reform of the tort claim laws, which can lead to meritorious cases being dismissed on technicalities," Smith said.
Prudenciano, 30, of Middletown, was walking with a friend through the Monmouth County park in Middletown on Oct. 14, 2019, when the two became lost on the trail. The ground they were standing on gave way and they fell down a cliff.
Prudenciano's lawsuit said his body "smashed onto the side of the mountain, slid down to the edge of a cliff, where he hung for several minutes before he finally fell off the edge of a cliff onto the shore below."
Prudenciano landed on a rock, fracturing his back in three places as well as breaking his leg and hand. His friend landed in the river and suffered minor injuries.
About a week after the fall, Prudenciano agreed to interviews with News 12 and "Inside Edition," according to the court filings.
Prudenciano was wearing a back brace in one interview and had an ankle boot and cane in the second, court filings said. At least one of the interviews happened at Hartshorne Woods Park.
After the interviews, his doctor ordered him to bed rest, and Prudenciano was bedridden for three months, court filings said.
Prudenciano notified Monmouth County of his intent to sue on Feb. 21, 2020, 130 days after his fall. He filed his lawsuit on Aug. 25, 2020.
Monmouth County asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed arguing that Prudenciano didn't notify the county within 90 days as required by New Jersey's tort claim law.
State Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley in Monmouth County agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.
Prudenciano asked Oxley to reconsider, saying he was "essentially immobile" for three months, did not have internet access and was not able to research or hire an attorney.
But Oxley denied the request for additional time, pointing to the television interviews Prudenciano did outside of his home as evidence that his injuries were not severe enough to prevent him from contacting an attorney within 90 days.
Prudenciano appealed Oxley's decision to the New Jersey Appellate Court, where judges Michael J. Haas and Stephanie Ann Mitterhoff again agreed with Monmouth County. See the full decision at the end of this story.
"Plaintiff's injuries were indisputably severe. However, as (Oxley) found, they were only partially debilitating and did not prevent plaintiff from seeking redress within the statutory time frame," the appellate ruling said.
"(Oxley) correctly found that plaintiff's claims are belied by the news articles showing him participating in an interview outside his home within the week after his fall."
Prudenciano has improved and is able to work, however he will likely be living with the injuries for the rest of his life, his attorney said.
"He still has issues and problems with his injuries. They are the type of injuries that are permanent in nature," Smith said.