After more than seven years, a Pennsylvania construction worker who was paralyzed by a drunk driver in 2003 has finalized his awards and insurance claims from the accident.
Alcohol is Involved in 32 Percent of Fatal Crashes
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 5.5 million accidents nationally in the United States, causing 2.2 million injuries. More than 30,000 accidents resulted in death, and alcohol was involved in 32 percent of fatal crashes. More than 1.4 million people nationally are arrested each year for DUI/DWI, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In this case, plaintiff Joseph Tuski was directing traffic at a construction site in a Philadelphia suburb when Michael Petaccio came flying down the shoulder at 40 miles per hour, hitting Tuski and throwing him more than 100 feet. Tuski was left quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down.
The court found that Petaccio had been drinking at the Ivyland Café, where he was a manager. After the accident, he fled the scene but was turned in to the police by his sister. Blood tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of .17, more than twice the legal limit.
After a civil trial, Tuski received a $38 million award in 2004 from Petaccio and the Ivyland Cafe, reduced by a judge from a $75 million jury verdict in Philadelphia. Then in 2007, the café’s insurance agreed to pay $20 million to settle a bad-faith claim. Finally, last month Tuski’s worker’s compensation insurance settled for $3 million to cover ongoing expenses, Medicare set-aside, and attorney fees.
Including interest, total awards, and insurance claims collected by Tuski will come close to $70 million. “It’s a lot of money,” says Barry Gultanoff, the principal of the Norristown, Pa. firm Gultanoff & Associates, noting that Philadelphia has a reputation for some of the highest jury awards in the country.
The original $75 million award was believed to be the second-highest non-death personal injury verdict ever awarded in Philadelphia at the time, the $20 million was the largest Pennsylvania bad-faith settlement and November’s $3 million worker’s comp settlement is thought by Tuski’s lawyers to be the largest in the country.
Record-setting payouts aren’t the norm these days, Gultanoff observes. “Settlements outside Philadelphia are going down,” he says.
Some aspects of the personal injury verdict are quantifiable, like past and future medical expenses and lost wages. Others, however, are subjective: punitive damages to punish defendants, as well as compensation for things like pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, embarrassment, and disfigurement. Figuring out how to value quality of life issues is a major challenge for juries, and can be subject to reductions by the judge, such as in the Tuski case.
“You can’t submit a number,” Gultanoff says. “It’s all subjective. You just have to paint the picture.”
Or, as Maryland firm Miller & Zois states, “There is no such thing as a formula settlement because there are no formula plaintiffs.”
By: Aaron Kase
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