HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — An Egg Harbor City woman who nearly lost part of a lower leg following a crash with a township police car on an icy road four years ago will receive a $1.2 million settlement from the township, her attorney said.
Susan R. Cossabone, 54, was headed north on Route 50 in the Laureldale section of Hamilton Township when the crash occurred about 10 p.m. Jan. 18, 2009, according to an article at the time in The Press of Atlantic City.
Hamilton police Officer Eric Bittman was headed south. Police said Bittman lost control of his car near Pine Street, crossed into the oncoming lane and smashed into Cossabone’s car. Both were taken to hospitals for their injuries.
A third car, behind Cossabone, drove into the woods to avoid hitting the two wrecked cars, but the driver was uninjured.
Court records show Cossabone’s lawsuit in the case was scheduled to go to trial Monday, but her attorney, Michael Mackler, said the settlement was reached May 13 and has since been acknowledged by the court.
The attorney for Bittman and Hamilton Township, Neil Stackhouse, did not return a call seeking comment.
Bittman remains employed by the township Police Department, and Mackler said it seems he has not been involved in any other on-duty crashes. The attorney said he believes the settlement will be mostly, if not entirely, paid by the township's insurance carriers.
About seven months after the crash, Bittman responded to a reported carjacking and fought off the suspect’s attempts to take his patrol car. For that, the Police Department gave him the Meritorious Service Award in November 2010.
It is unclear what Bittman’s injuries were in the 2009 accident, but the crash cracked Cossabone’s ribs, broke her forearm, shattered her right kneecap and caused catastrophic damage to her right ankle, Mackler said.
In the hospital, doctors inserted titanium rods into Cossabone’s ankle, according to Donate Life, a charity focused on organ donations. The rods later broke, leaving local doctors to contemplate amputating her lower leg.
However, in 2010, she underwent the first of several surgeries at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center’s Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction. A doctor there, Mark Meyerson, essentially rebuilt her ankle with bones, grafts and AlloStem Bone Growth Substitute.
That substance uses adult stem cells taken from the fat and ground bone of deceased tissue donors to jump-start growth, rebuilding bone and tissue where it was previously thought not possible.
By January 2011, Cossabone had healed enough that she no longer risked losing her leg, according to the Catholic Review of Baltimore. By that spring, doctors replaced her kneecap, enabling her to walk again.
She will have to walk with an orthopedic shoe for the rest of her life, Mackler said, since the crash shortened the right leg of the 5-foot, 11-inch woman by about 1½ inches.
Since her surgeries, she has been an advocate for blood, tissue and organ donations. In January 2012, she was one of 28 people who rode on a Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade prior to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Before the crash, Cossabone and her husband, Harold, operated the 10-acre Hidden View Farm off Hamburg Road in Egg Harbor City. There she had kept more than two dozen horses, instructing riders and operating a small summer camp.
The crash kept her from riding and forced her to reduce the number of horses she had.
But they have kept the farm, Mackler said, surviving on “next to nothing” and the help of a number of people.
Mackler said the farm is now home to 10 horses, of which Cossabone owns six and others are boarded or retired. She is again able to teach riding and work with some special-needs children.
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