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Man known for charity settles injury suit

Kansas City Star, Wednesday, April 18, 2001, Joe Lambe

Man known for charity settles injury suit

(Lawsuit: Man injured in accident at City Market settles case)

Notzie Rotolo served up a lot of drinks over three decades at Joe’s Standard Bar, but the real house specialty was a blend of hope and determination.

Driven by the birth of a developmentally disabled daughter in 1960, Rotolo dedicated himself to raising money for and serving those in need. His fund-raising pluck was legendary among patrons of his downtown tavern.

With a sudden, single missed step more than two years ago, Rotolo was no longer meeting others’ needs, but was himself in need. He tripped over a ledge in the City Market, and the fall led to brain damage and paralysis. Medical bills since then have come to more than $1.6 million; his lawyer thinks they will amount to millions more during the remainder of Rotolo’s life.

This week, attorneys announced a settlement that will go a long way toward covering those costs. The city, a City Market management company and the owners of Mario’s restaurant have agreed to pay Rotolo $5 million to settle his personal injury lawsuit.

Rotolo, now 78, fell into a steel doorframe and broke his neck in December 1998. “He has since recovered his mental ability but has suffered constant physical setbacks, including heart and respiratory failure and now a dangerous bacterial infection,” said his lawyer, Brian F. McCallister.

Under the terms of the settlement, Kansas City and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority of Kansas City each would pay $100,000. The remainder of the settlement will be paid by Commercial Realty Resources Inc., the city market management company; and Star Foods Inc., the owner of Mario’s.

The defendants admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. Last year, only three settlements reported in Missouri were larger.

Robert Horn, attorney for the city, the redevelopment authority and Commercial Realty, said insurance would cover the settlement. It was wiser to settle this week than start a month long trial that could possibly result in high damage awards, he said.

McCallister said many others would have testified that they had tripped at the same spot. After people stepped over a concrete retaining wall to enter Mario’s, some could not see the raised edge of a concrete ramp and tripped over it, he said.

Evidence would have shown that managers knew the spot was dangerous long before Rotolo’s injury and did not fix it, McCallister said. The edge is now covered with a produce stand and blocked by a guardrail. Rotolo started raising money for the disabled after his daughter, Vicki, was born profoundly retarded.

He threw dance parties for palsied children in wheelchairs. To help pay for good works, he strong-armed or charmed donations from patrons at Joe’s Standard, a tavern and eatery near the Jackson County courthouse that had been in the family since 1937.

Rotolo retired more than a decade before the accident and sold the bar to his son, who recently relocated it to Blue Springs.

Now Rotolo is in Vencor Hospital at 87th Street and Troost Avenue. Janice Hodges, a daughter living in Lee’s Summit, said her father hoped to overcome a bacterial infection and go home.

Hope is his life, she said. He survived countless medical problems and was put on a ventilator.

“No one ever gave him a chance to come off that ventilator,” Hodges said, but he is off it now.

Rotolo’s work for the disabled has won him honors from a former state governor and lawmakers in Jefferson City and Kansas City.

Last year, the Jackson County Board of Services for the Developmentally Disabled gave him a life-time achievement award.

The board wrote in its news publication: “When someone says, ‘We cannot help this person,’ Notzie finds a way.”

Rotolo, it said, “believes that no one with a developmental disability should awaken on any morning without finding an undiscovered island of hope.”

 

To reach Joe Lambe, Jackson County courts reporter, call (816) 234-4314 or send email to jlambe@kcstar.com.