WESTFIELD, NJ — Family of the Westfield High School principal who grew up in Plainfield, and who died from complications following his bone marrow donation to a boy in France in 2019, have settled a medical malpractice lawsuit in the case for $5.5 million, court records show.
Sheronda Braker, fiancé of Principal Derrick Nelson, sued Hackensack University Medical Center, anesthesiologist Jerry M. Baratta, Hackensack Anesthesiology Associates and the John Theurer Cancer Center in July 2019.
The lawsuit claimed that doctors failed account for Nelson’s sleep apnea and weight during the Feb. 18 procedure at Hackensack University Medical Center and that, as a result, he died of hypoxic brain injury. That claim is now settled.
“It was a very tragic circumstance involving an amazing man,” said the family’s attorney David Mazie, of the firm Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman. “From the perspective of the family, this provides closure. It provides financial security for Sheronda and her daughter. It could never replace Dr. Nelson, but it’s time from their perspective to move on in life. This was a fair settlement.”
The aggregate $5.5 million settlement is detailed in an Oct. 28 certification filed with the court as part of a motion to set attorney fees of 22.5% on the amount of the settlement recovered in excess of $3 million.
Messages left with the attorney representing Hackensack Anesthesiology Associates were not returned Wednesday. The family voluntarily dismissed its claims against Hackensack University Medical Center in 2019.
Nelson, of Plainfield, died April 8, 2019 at age 44.
Nelson started his career in education in Plainfield before serving as an administrator in the Orange School District, then coming to Westfield in 2010. He served in the Army Reserve for over 20 years, his obituary says. His military service included deployment to Afghanistan.
Following Nelson’s death, Gov. Phil Murphy had ordered flags in New Jersey be lowered statewide. “Dr. Nelson was a man of immense character and kindness, a pillar of his community and beloved by all who knew him,” Murphy says in his executive order.
A vigil at Westfield High School honoring Nelson drew hundreds of people, who memorialized the late principal — the school’s first African American to serve in that role.
An online petition that garnered national attention asked that the high school be renamed in Nelson’s honor. The school district is honoring Dr. Nelson with an extensive update to a courtyard at the high school that will have multiple gathering spaces — something school officials decided on following a survey of district families.
Nelson is also honored at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in Clifton and Nutley with a Student Life Services Center named in his honor.
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