CAMDEN, N.J. -- When Robert Leitenberger set out with a friend in a limousine for a night at an Atlantic City casino on July 13, 2003, he hoped for a night of fun.
But it wasn't a winning night for Leitenberger and got worse on the 45-minute drive home. Angered because he had to cover a supplemental $300 bill for waiting time by the limo service, Leitenberger's friend, Joseph Corbo, began to beat him in the back seat. According to a criminal investigation, Corbo didn’t stop beating him until the limousine pulled up to Leitenberger's home in Sicklerville.
This past December, Leitenberger, 43, sued American Star Limousine Inc. and its limousine driver, Robert Hertzog, for negligence.
Filed by attorney Andrew Rossetti, the lawsuit claims the limousine service had a duty as a common carrier under state law to "provide supervision, safety and security" to passengers. Rossetti said he believes it is the first time the law has been cited for an assault in a limousine.
The assailant, Corbo, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and is serving a seven-year term in state prison. He is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The Cherry Hill-based limousine service “was not able” to issue a statement about the lawsuit.
Leitenberger was in a coma for four days after a neighbor found him choking on his own blood at the foot of his driveway and called for medical assistance.
"I just remember trying to stand up, crawling up the driveway and gurgling," he said.
Among the injuries suffered by Leitenberger, who had worked as a supervisor for a landscaping firm, were a broken nose, broken jaw and orbital bone fractures. He said family members were told he would not live until the next day. Several teeth were knocked out and dental surgery was delayed because of continuing pulmonary problems. He also requires surgery on his neck.
Under the negligence claim, the lawsuit seeks damages including lost and future wages, compensation for pain and suffering and punitive damages.
"It was supposed to be just a night out. We took the limo so we wouldn't have to worry about driving home," Leitenberger said. He had used Hertzog as a driver once previously and had good service.
But during the attack that began the moment he and Corbo got into the car for the return trip, Hertzog did nothing to stop the beating, according to the lawsuit and investigative reports prepared by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Instead of making a 911 call, Hertzog raised the window to “cut down on the noise,” Rossetti claimed.
Leitenberger said Corbo robbed him of jewelry during the beating and believes he used something other than his fists.
Reviewing criminal records in the case against Corbo, Rossetti said the back seat of the limousine was smeared with blood. He said Hertzog didn't clean the car before his next job, taking a passenger to the Philadelphia airport. When that passenger complained about the blood in the back seat and sidewalls of the vehicle, Rossetti said that Hertzog told him to ride in the front.