Family of 13-year-old boy awarded $4.4M settlement for 2017 Wayne crash

Philip DeVencentis

WAYNE — The family of a 13-year-old boy was awarded a $4.4 million settlement against a drunken driver and the bar that served her just before the rear-end collision that almost killed him.

The crash at the busy intersection of Alps and Ratzer roads in March 2017 caused brain injuries to Matthew Polifonte, who continues to suffer residual effects that include limited use of his left arm and left leg, said Christopher DiGirolamo, the family's attorney.

The driver found to be at fault, Gina D'Amario-Aubin, was drinking at Greenhouse Bar & Grill, which shares a building and an owner with Amore of Wayne, an Italian restaurant.

Lori Polifonte pushes her 10-year-old son, Matthew, in a wheelchair upon his return to their Wayne home after a four-month hospital stay in August 2017.

"Very little good came out of it, other than me being able to protect the boy financially for the rest of his life," DiGirolamo said.

The boy's parents, Lori and Leo Polifonte, sued D'Amario-Aubin and the bar on their son's behalf in December 2017.

According to a settlement recently finalized after months of negotiations, D'Amario-Aubin must pay $2.5 million through her insurer, plus $1 million out of her own pocket.

An additional $950,000 was recovered from the bar.

One of the troubling aspects of the case is that the crash occurred within 2½ miles of the family's home, within 2 miles of D'Amario-Aubin's and blocks away from the bar.

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"Like they say," DiGirolamo said, "shark attacks can happen in 6 inches of water."

Nicholas Lombardi, an attorney for D'Amario-Aubin, did not return a call placed to his law office in Wayne.

Terence Michael King, an attorney for the bar, said a settlement was the best option for his client. "It's tragic — very tragic what happened to the young man, and we extend our best wishes to the Polifonte family," he said.

But, he added: "There was no admission of liability on our part."

To prove that the bar owed some measure of responsibility for the crash, DiGirolamo would have had to apply what is known as the state's "dram shop" act to show that D'Amario-Aubin was served to excess.

The 1987 law provides a remedy for a person to seek damages from an establishment for injuries caused by negligent alcohol service.

The case did not proceed that far, but DiGirolamo said he would have presented it to a jury if he had to.

Matthew, who was 9 at the time of the crash, was in the back row of his family's Toyota minivan, on his way home from lacrosse practice, when it was slammed from behind by a Mercedes-Benz SUV with D'Amario-Aubin at the wheel, police said. Five vehicles were involved in the chain-reaction accident.

D'Amario-Aubin, now 61, was charged with assault by auto and driving while intoxicated, among other offenses. She ultimately spent a year in Passaic County Jail, court records show.

Matthew, who has a twin sister, will enter eighth grade next month. He may never play sports again, DiGirolamo said, but he has made "great strides" toward recovery.

"The doctors are very impressed with how well he's doing, compared to what it was like three years ago," DiGirolamo said.

Part of the settlement guarantees that Matthew will be paid monthly annuities, beginning in March 2029, in addition to a lump sum of $530,000 on his 35th birthday.

Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.