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Sophomore sues U. over poorly maintained sewer grate

<p>The sewer grate prior to repair.</p>
<h6>Photo courtesy of the Plaintiffs&nbsp;</h6>

The sewer grate prior to repair.

Photo courtesy of the Plaintiffs 

Gilbert Spencer ’22 ended his first fall semester in a bike crash. Now, he’s suing.

The personal injury lawsuit, filed last month, charges the University, the Municipality of Princeton, and Mercer County with negligence over the fall 2018 incident. On Dec. 10, 2018, Spencer rode his bicycle over a poorly maintained sewer grate, which flung him off, resulting in “severe and permanent injuries.”

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According to Spencer’s lawyers, none of the defendants have claimed responsibility for the grate, despite its being repaired shortly after the accident.

A week before last year’s winter break, Spencer was biking outside of Frist Campus Center when he hit a massive pothole, adjacent to the sewer grate.

“I was launched off my bike and landed face first on the pavement,” he explained. “A lot of blood was pouring out from my face.”

Bystanders rushed to his aid, handing him napkins. Traffic on Washington Road came to a stop. Someone called 9-1-1. Spencer found his tooth on the ground.

“When a police officer came, he told me to put that one in my pocket and show it to the doctors at the hospital,” he said. “Little did I know the doctor would just shove it back into my mouth several hours later.”

At Princeton Medical Center, Spencer found out that he had suffered a broken nose, cheekbone, and upper jaw, a sprained arm, and chipped teeth.

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The complaint, filed on Dec. 2, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, names the University, Mercer County, and the Municipality of Princeton as defendants. Spencer is suing for negligence, claiming the defendants failed to take reasonable steps to maintain the grate system and to prevent harm to people using the roadway.

“We were forced to file against multiple people because no one has admitted to us who is responsible for the maintenance of this road,” said Derek Layser, who is representing Spencer in court, along with Brett Kaminsky.

“I initially believed it was Mercer County’s road and did the tort notice to them, but they’re claiming it’s not their road,” he explained. “Princeton Borough says it’s not their road. So we had to file suit to, frankly, get the lawyers involved and see who’s going to admit that it is their property.”

Although no one has come forward to claim ownership of the property, the road was repaired within a week of Spencer’s accident. New asphalt was placed around the grate and the area smoothed out so that future cyclists would not tumble.

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The sewer grate after being repaired

Photo courtesy of the Plaintiffs 

“No one has admitted to repairing the road,” Layser said. “That’s why we had to file suit.”

The complaint states that Spencer is seeking relief from damages including medical treatment, permanent scarring, numerous dental procedures, serious disfigurement, severe injuries, future medical expenses, emotional distress, missed class and school work, and loss of life’s pleasures.

According to court documentation, the complaint was mailed to the defendants on Dec. 15, 2019. Mercer County Director of Communications Julie Wilmot declined to comment on the matter, and the town of Princeton did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. According to University spokesperson Ben Chang, the University has not been served with the suit as of Jan. 6, 2020.

“The University has not been served with the complaint and therefore is not in a position to comment on it,” Chang wrote in a statement to The Daily Princetonian.

A year after the accident, and after a year’s worth of dental work to repair his teeth, Spencer is back to normal life. Thinking back to last year, he remarked that the timing of the accident was unfortunate.

“I was definitely super sad and probably depressed for a while after my accident just because it happened so early while I was at Princeton,” he said. “I didn’t think I had a close group of friends, even though a ton of people did end up stepping up to help me out in a time I really needed it.”

Spencer said he is thankful for the support he received on campus.

“All the bystanders who helped were great, and the doctors and nurses at the hospital were attentive and gave me good quality care,” he said. “The University staff did a good job in helping me academically.”

So, does Spencer ride his bike around campus anymore? Sometimes.

“Certainly much less than I used to,” he said.

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