A mechanic's refusal to inspect a bum truck earns him $176,000

August 22, 1994|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff Writer

It was a minor trial. No loss of life or limb occurred. No property was damaged or stolen. No one fought over the word "Colts."

Yet, the Baltimore County Court case of Edward R. Narizzano vs. Beal GMC Truck Inc. was a little diamond in the court-docketed rough. Earlier this month, a jury awarded Mr. Narizzano $176,000 for "doing the right thing."

The eight-member jury found Beal GMC of Rosedale liable for wrongfully firing Mr. Narizzano in June 1993. As the dealership's service manager, he refused to issue inspection paperwork on a truck he believed had serious problems -- such as worn brake drums and worn tires.

"This could be our children this truck could have come barreling down on," says jury member Susan Abbondandolo of Reisterstown. "He did the right thing, and this was our way of thanking him."

"There are very few people who would give up their jobs because they didn't want to do the wrong thing," says Mr. Narizzano's attorney, Julie Janofsky of Towson.

"I would not budge," says Edward Narizzano.

"We can't comment," says Harvey Beal III, company president of Beal GMC, which is appealing the ruling.

So, what happened here?

Go back to 1989. Edward R. Narizzano -- a New York native with automotive mechanic training and a boat captain's license -- was out of work in Baltimore.

Understand this about the 43-year-old Mr. Narizza no (married, father of two): His way of thinking can travel in straight lines. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Sometimes in life, there are no gray areas. And he punctuates his way of thinking with that New York voice (Andy Sipowicz of "NYPD Blue" comes to mind).

Mr. Narizzano got a job at Beal GMC, in the 7600 block of Pulaski Highway. As service manager, he was in charge of 20 mechanics.

He also issued inspection documents on vehicles at the dealership. When vehicles change title in Maryland, they are required to be inspected.

In June 1993, Mr. Narizzano says, he was asked by his bosses to issue paperwork on an inspection certificate for a 1975 Peterbilt truck. "But the truck wasn't in the store," he says. Mr. Narizzano wanted to first look at the truck. He says he asked a mechanic from the shop to go with him and inspect the vehicle.

Among other problems, the Peterbilt truck had badly worn brake drums, badly worn tires, inoperable lights, broken frame cross-members, and chafed and loose brake lines, according to the lawsuit.

"This was not a minor taillight bulb missing," Mr. Narizzano says. And, as he used to tell his inspectors, "Just imagine your wife and kids in front of this when you're trying to stop or steer it."

So, Mr. Narizzano refused to OK the inspection paperwork. "I want things right," he says.

As he kind of expected, he got the "time for a change" speech and was fired from his $42,000-a-year job -- around Father's Day. He says he left the dealership at 4:15 p.m. and had another job by 4:45 p.m. -- as a mechanic in a boat yard in Essex.

Then, he noticed a story in The Sun on June 23 in which a widow was awarded a survivor's pension for her husband's World War II radiation exposure. The widow's attorney was Julie Janofsky of Towson.

So, Ed Narizzano, former service manager at Beal GMC, called her.

Now, "he's one of my heroes," says Ms. Janofsky.

The week-long trial this month was marked by something unusual, says Ms. Janofsky. "Seldom do you see current employees testify against the company."

As for the jury, says Ms. Abbondandolo, a program specialist with the state Department of Human Resources, it had that rare opportunity to influence somebody's life. It also had the chance to send a message to any company threatening the public's safety that "at least eight people are out there who would punish you if they could," she says.

As for Mr. Narizzano, he worked at the boat yard in Essex until last November. That's seasonal work, after all. He was unemployed again -- with a wife, 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to support. But he still had his captain's license, so he got a job shuttling boats in the Inner Harbor.

He now owns and operates two Harbor Shuttle boats docked off Boston Street, and that's where he can be found 10 hours a day and on holidays. "This is not a whole lot of fun," he says. He'd like to get back into automotive repair.

He says he feels vindicated by the jury's decision, and he's getting his life "back together" after the lousy summer of '93.

Things are still a little sticky, socially. Harvey Beal III, the president of Beal GMC, still lives two doors down from him in Bel Air. That's how they first started talking about Mr. Narizzano coming to work for Beal GMC back in 1989.

Mr. Narizzano appreciated the opportunity -- at the time -- to work at Beal GMC. He also says he appreciated the time when the Beals loaned his family a van, so they could take a vacation to New York. "But the van was a piece of junk."

Worn brakes, Ed Narizzano says.

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