By Robert Storace, Law.com | CT Law Tribune, STAMFORD CT (December 20, 2018) — This year saw some explosive jury verdicts and settlements on a variety of topics, most having to do with death, injury, malpractice or motor vehicle cases.
The largest verdict in Connecticut—by far—was last week’s ruling by a federal judge in the case of a longtime smoker against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. In that case, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill upped the punitive damages to $8 million, bringing the total award to $52.3 million.
Here is a tally by the Connecticut Law Tribune of five of the top verdicts and settlements, and a look at the attorneys who secured these victories.
Barbara Izzarelli won a suit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds in 1999, claiming injury from smoking Salem cigarettes over 25 years.
On Dec. 13, Underhill finalized the punitive damages that R.J. Reynolds will have to pay Izzarelli, a former Connecticut resident who now lives in Florida. He set punitive damages at $8 million in the case, bringing the total amount owed Izzarelli to $52.3 million. The case has gone through several courts since a 2010 federal jury awarded Izzarelli $7.9 million. While the cigarette maker is expected to appeal, attorney David Golub told his client that he hopes the case will, finally, be wrapped up by 2019.
A partner with Stamford’s Silver Golub & Teitell, Golub said there were two principal challenges/obstacles he had to overcome. First, he said, was that Connecticut law was largely unsettled with respect to product liability standards applicable to cigarettes design cases. Second, Golub said, was that jurors had strong feelings, both pro and con, about smoking and smokers. R.J. Reynolds, and other cigarette makers, he noted “have spent millions of dollars promoting public relations campaigns about personal choice and arguing that individuals who choose to smoke are responsible for their own injuries.”
Izzarelli began smoking at age 12. She underwent a total laryngectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She can no longer breathe through her mouth or nose and uses a tube in her throat.
Golub was assisted in the case by colleagues Jonathan Levine and Marilyn Ramos.
Attorney Jerry McEnery secured a $13.6 million settlement for a Wallingford woman severely injured in a motorcycle crash that killed her fiance. A big part of the victory was due to the dash cam footage which showed the driver of the garbage truck that struck the motorcycle was not paying attention.
Allison Vandermaelen was a passenger on a motorcycle with Raymond Smith when it collided in July 2016 with a garbage truck operated by a man who crossed into oncoming traffic, according to the lawsuit. Smith died instantly while Vandermaelen suffered a traumatic brain injury and underwent 22 surgeries on her left leg.
In addition to the dashcam footage, McEnery said it was important to put a face to the name Allison Vandermaelen. In doing so, McEnery worked with an outside company to film a day in the life of Vandermaelen and her then-17-year-old daughter, Jenna.
“It was very powerful,” he said. “All of the insurance companies and the mediator were impressed with both women.”
Assisting McEnery were colleagues Gayle Sullivan, Charles Price Jr., and Robert Messey
There were several layers to lawyer Michael Burrell’s representation of client Schley Hunter, who was left a quadriplegic following a 2016 rollover of the box truck.
Hunter was a passenger in the truck in which the driver is said to have fallen asleep at the wheel, thus losing control of the vehicle. The truck hit 50 yards of guardrail and flipped over on its right side after striking a large rock on the side of the road. Hunter was then struck by a tractor-trailer traveling 50 miles per hour as he tried to help the driver of the box truck to safety.
Burrell, a partner with Bridgeport-based Adelman Hirsch & Connors, got a $1 million recovery against the tractor-trailer truck and $1.295 million against the operator of the box truck. There were also a negligence claims and a workers’ compensation settlement for a total payout of $8.39 million.
James Bergenn believes defense attorneys agreed to pay $5 million to his client, a bicyclist whose leg was amputated after a truck collision, because “we were going to kill them at trial.”
Bergenn, a partner with Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, told the Connecticut Law Tribune, “We had a guy [the driver of the truck] who gave the wrong name to police and not only did not have his [commercial driver’s license], but he also did not even have a Connecticut driver’s license. He was also in the U.S. unlawfully.”
Bloomfield resident Michael Galikas was riding his bicycle when he was sideswiped by a 33,000-pound box truck. He was in an induced coma and had his left leg amputated because the truck’s rear wheels ran over his legs. Galikas got the $5 million settlement from the truck’s insurance carrier.
The lawsuit on behalf of Galikas named truck driver Antonio Giron Santiz and his employer, East Windsor-based Baggott Family Farms, as defendants. “The company is also at fault,” Bergenn said. “They did not vet him like they should have.”
Bergenn was assisted by colleague William Ronalter, who was the lead plaintiff attorney on the case.
Attorney Michael Jainchill helped secure a $3.8 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against a speeding motorist that struck a vehicle head-on, killing 66-year-old grandmother Janet Pulver.
Jainchill, a partner with Hartford’s RisCassi & Davis, reached the settlement on behalf of Pulver’s two grown children. One of Jainchill’s biggest obstacles was to establish the value of loss, which was made harder because Pulver had not been gainfully employed outside the home since her children were born.
“Once her kids were grown and with children of their own, she chose to provide day care services to her grandchildren so that the parents could work and not have to incur child care expenses,” Jainchill said. “We used that cost as a basis to try to establish the economic value of her activities. However, it was arguable as to whether that would be an appropriate element of damages for a jury to consider if the case were to be tried.”