By CHRISTIAN NOLAN
Tracey Mason vs. Jessica Sazo: A woman inured in an Interstate 95 accident was awarded nearly $156,000 by a Bridgeport jury even though she didn’t take the stand at her trial. With offer of compromise interest and costs, the total award is supposed to be just over $195,000.
The plaintiff’s lawyers took the unusual civil trial strategy of not allowing their client to testify because of her checkered past, which included drug addiction and two felony narcotics convictions. “We knew that if we put her on the stand and they heard
about her past, we’d have a real tough road to travel, said one of the plaintiffs lawyers, Joseph De Lucia, of De Lucia & Levine in Bridgeport.
De Lucia, who tried the case with Nicole Levine, said that bar colleagues have been buzzing since the move paid off. “Everybody was amazed. How can you get $156,000 from a jury [following] a $25,000 offer from the defendant when you don’t have your plaintiff testify?” said De Lucia. “That’s what got everybody’s attention”
De Lucia said the firm has gotten about 50 phone calls from colleagues since. Even judges not involved in the case have come up to him and Levine in the courthouse. Levine was asked to discuss the case at a recent Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association seminar.
The plaintiff, Tracey Mason, 53, was the passenger in a vehicle driven by Wendell Wilson, who ended up being the defendant in the lawsuit. Levine explained that Wilson was driving erratically on I-95 in Bridgeport trying to get through traffic. He swerved into the breakdown lane and, as he merged back into the travel lane, pulled in front of a vehicle driven by Jessica Saw, who rear-ended him.
Mason suffered a low back injury in the crash. An MRI later revealed a disc herniation. She was first treated by an orthopedic doctor and went to physical therapy. She later consulted with a neurosurgeon, who has recommended surgery to resolve her back pain. Levine said Mason has not had surgery yet, as doctors want to first wait for deep vein thrombosis lit her legs to subside.
Mason later sued Sazo and Wilson. Dc Lucia and Levine quickly reached a settlement with Sazo’s insurer, Allstate, As for the case against Wilson, the plaintiff’s attorneys sought $251,100 in their offer of compromise Wilson’s insurer, Liberty Mutual, initially turned it down. Just before the start of trial, the insurer had a change of heart, but by then Mason was willing to roll the dice with a jury.
Before testimony began, a default judgment was entered against Wilson for failing to answer the interrogatories. And so the case proceeded as a hearing on damages, though Levine said the defense lawyer, Shari Pearlman of Meehan, Turret & Rosenbaum in Wallingford, still tried to argue liability at the trial, claiming her client was not at fault for the accident. However, Superior Court Judge William Wenzel instructed the jury that it had already been determined that the defendant was liable. Pearlman did not respond to an interview request.
At trial, the defense hired a neurosurgeon to do a records review of Mason’s file, Because he was only available to testify on the first day of the trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys allowed the defense to present him first. The doctor, Phillip Micalizzi, opined that Mason was injured in the accident and her treatment was reasonable, though he disagreed with Mason’s doctors about her need for future surgery. The plaintiff’s lawyers then presented their case on damages through the testimony of Mason’s two doctors. Mason’s orthopedic doctor, Eric Katz, and her neurosurgeon, Abe Mintz, testified that her injury was related to the crash and that surgery would help her, The doctors discussed the physical therapy notes, which detailed Mason’s pain levels at each visit, ‘[he notes also discussed how the back injuries limited her on a day-to-day basis, making it difficult to bend, lift objects and perform household chores, “So through the doctors’ testimony and all the medical records, we were able to address all the issues of damages without having the witness take the- stand, Levine said during the trial, the claim adjuster for Liberty Mutual was sitting in the back of the court room. ”We think the jury could have mistakenly believed that was [plaintiff] Tracey Mason” said Levine. The first witness the defense asked for after the plaintiff’s attorneys rested their case was Mason. Levine said the defense “made a big show of it” to jurors that Mason wasn’t not present.
However, the defense hadn’t subpoenaed her so she wasn’t required to testify.
The defense also sought to present Mason’s recorded deposition, which addressed her drug history. Mason’s lawyers responded by saying they would present Wilson’s deposition in which he admits liability for the accident. The defense then decided not to pursue playing Mason’s deposition for the jury but did seek to admit Into evidence a certified copy of Mason’s criminal record, The judge decided it was more prejudicial than probative and disallowed it. De Lucia said Mason probably would have testified had the jury been more diverse. He said the jury was predominantly “suburban.”
“Usually In Bridgeport, you have a chance of getting a fairly urban jury, which tends to be more forgiving. Alter all, we have an ex-felon as a mayor so most people aren’t overly concerned with that concept,” said De Lucia.
De Lucia said his firm previously had a client who was high on PCP who was hit by a car. Although, the defendant admitted hitting the plaintiff, the jury still returned a defense verdict. De Lucia believes the jury held that plaintiff’s drug problems against him. He didn’t want something like that to happen again with Mason’s case. “You learn more from the cases you lose that the cases you win”. said De Lucia. “That’s what led us to try this.”
School board ordered to pay $60,000 to alleged sex assault victim
Updated 1:29 pm, Tuesday, July 11, 2017
BRIDGEPORT – The Board of Education has been ordered to pay more than $60,000 for failing to take action after a teenaged girl complained that she was sexually assaulted in a school four years ago.
Following a court trial, Superior Court Judge Michael Kamp ruled the school board and Jonathan Winthrop School Principal Selena Morgan failed to protect the then 13-year-old student after she complained that she had been sexually assaulted by another student and because of their inaction allowed her to be in the position where she was allegedly sexually assaulted again by the same student.
“Morgan had a duty to protect M, who she knew had been the victim of another student’s inappropriate behavior. Morgan breached that duty of car when she did not take action to ensure that P would not come into contact with M until a full investigation had been undertaken,” the judge stated.
Kamp ordered the board to pay $60,824.44 in damages to the girl’s family.
Joseph DeLucia, who represents the girl’s family, said the girl suffered emotional damage as a result of the alleged assaults and had to transfer out of the district.
“The evidence we presented showed that Morgan was aware that the girl had been sexually assaulted but not only took no action but later denied that she had ever been made aware of the complaints,” DeLucia said.
Although as principal, Morgan is required by law to report allegations of sexual assault in the school, she was never charged and remains the school’s principal. She could not be reached for comment.
City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer said the judge’s award was significantly less than the plaintiffs had been seeking but “Was rather generous given the minor nature of the battery alleged and the scarce evidence offered to support any real injury.”
On May 13, 2013, according to testimony at trial, the girl, identified only as M, was having lunch in the school cafeteria when the other female student, identified as P, pulled M’s hair and touched her inappropriately on her breasts.
M immediately left the cafeteria and while in the school hallway, punched the wall in frustration, injuring her right hand, according to testimony. She was taken by her grandmother to St. Vincent’s Medical Center where she disclosed she had been sexually assaulted by another student.
Three days later the girl’s mother called the school and complained to Morgan that her daughter had been sexually assaulted in the school, according to testimony. Morgan told the mother the matter would be fully investigated however, at that time Morgan took no further action.
On May 7, 2013, testimony at trial stated that M was again having lunch in the school cafeteria when P again sexually molested her. M reported the incident to her math teacher who then sent an email to Morgan, who was not in school, alerting her of the new incident. Both M and one of her classmates also gave the teacher written statements.
A couple of days later M’s parents contacted the police about the alleged incidents and the state Department of Children and Families was also notified, according to testimony.
M testified she suffered from depression and developed an eating disorder which she attributed to the alleged assaults and later underwent counseling that cost her family $824.
Woman bit by police dog sues city
Updated 4:35 pm, Wednesday, February 8, 2017
BRIDGEPORT — A local woman is suing the city after she was bitten by a police dog while she was walking to work.
In the lawsuit filed in Superior Court, Lucille Davila claims she was attacked by the dog after its handler, Officer Marie Cetti, negligently allowed the dog to get out of the police car.
Davila is seeking more than $15,000 in damages.
“My client was simply on her way to work at Dunkin’ Donuts when the dog got out of the police car and jumped on her back,” said Davila’s lawyer, Joseph DeLucia. “The officer decided my client was OK and left, leaving Miss Davila to go back to work covered in blood and her manager had to take her to the hospital.”
Police Chief Armando Perez said it was a terrible accident.
“The dog did bite the woman, we have apologized to her and are doing everything to make sure it never happens again,” the chief said.
Perez confirmed that Cetti, an officer since 2011, attended the State Police dog training academy but did not graduate. He attributed that to her not being comfortable with the dog. However, he said, she got another dog and graduated from a private training program the city now uses.
The suit states that shortly after 6 a.m., on Oct. 27, the 34-year-old Davila was walking to the Dunkin Donuts at the corner of Lafayette Boulevard and Prospect Street when Cetti’s police dog, Uno, jumped on her back and began biting her.
The manager of the Dunkin Donuts took Davila to Bridgeport Hospital where police were called. Cetti filed a report of the biting incident after police responded to the hospital five hours later.
In her report, Cetti she was working an outside overtime detail at the entrance ramp to Route 8/25 when she got out of her car to give a truck driver directions. She states that her dog got out of the car through the open driver’s side door and, “Jumped up on Davila putting both paws on her back as she was walking eastbound on Prospect Street.”
Cetti states in her report that she successfully called the dog back.
“I offered her (Davila) medical attention twice but she refused, stating she was OK,” she stated. She continues that she went to Bridgeport Hospital at 1 p.m. after learning Davila had gone there for treatment but Davila had already been discharged.
DeLucia said his client suffered multiple lacerations on her mid back from the dog.
“It was pretty terrible,” he added.
Plaintiff Involved in Two Crashes in a Row Settles for $1.8 Million
If it wasn’t for bad luck in late 2011, John Grim wouldn’t have had any luck at all.
Besides getting diagnosed with thyroid cancer and being divorced, he was involved in two motor vehicle accidents on consecutive days. In the second one, he suffered a life-changing neck injury that could have left him a quadriplegic if not for three surgeries done to repair his spine.
The two accidents resulted in two lawsuits, though his lawyers were able to consolidate the cases, which involved finger-pointing by the defendants and their insurance companies, with each defendant blaming the other accident as the real cause of Grim’s severe neck injury.
In the end, Grim recently settled all of the litigation for $1.85 million. “If there was any plaintiff who deserved this kind of settlement, it was him,” said one of Grim’s lawyers, Nicole Levine, of De Lucia & Levine in Bridgeport. “He had such a bad year in 2011; this [settlement] will change his future in 2015.”
On Dec. 8, 2011, at around 9:30 a.m., Grim was driving up a hilly Stratford road in a utility truck. Grim, 42, of Seymour, was working as a master generator repair technician for Huntington Power Equipment. An oil tanker operated by Miguel Perez of Apple Oil Co. was headed in the opposite direction. Levine said the oil truck swerved and went up on an embankment on Grim’s passenger side. The tanker then started to roll over and hit Grim’s truck, crushing a portion of it. The contact may have helped the tanker right itself, as it got all its tires back on the road and kept going.
Grim called 911 to report the hit-and-run accident. Not far away, there was a water main break near Sikorsky Aircraft. Within minutes, an officer there noticed the oil tanker and stopped the driver. Perez was charged with leaving the scene of the accident.
Grim went to Griffin Hospital in Derby complaining of low back and right biceps pain. He was released without diagnostic testing and allowed to return to work the next day. On that day, he got into another accident. This time, he was driving on the Merritt Parkway in New Canaan.
Levine said that another vehicle, driven by Dale Verlingieri, was trying to switch lanes and sideswiped Grim. Grim’s vehicle started to spin and was hit again by Verlingieri’s vehicle. “He described it as being hit NASCAR-style, in the back and then T-boned,” said Levine.
This time Grim reported feeling immediate pain in his neck and left arm. He returned to Griffin Hospital, where doctors performed X-rays and a CT scan of his cervical spine area. He was referred to Valley Orthopaedic Specialists in Shelton for follow-up care. Orthopedist Scott Waller reviewed the CT scan and discovered what was later diagnosed as thyroid cancer. The doctor also ordered a cervical MRI, which revealed that Grim also had a crushed cervical disc. “It looked like an arrowhead on the MRI,” said Grim’s other lawyer, Joseph De Lucia, also of De Lucia & Levine. “It was almost completely blocking the spinal column. They had to operate right away. They were worried about him becoming a quadriplegic. They said any interim trauma to him and he’d be in a wheelchair.”
The spinal procedure was such a major undertaking, the lawyers said, that it was done in two parts on separate dates. Grim also had surgery to remove the thyroid as part of his cancer treatment. All told, he missed 10 months of work.
In the year following the surgeries, Grim complained to his doctors that his head felt like a bowling ball and that by the end of the day he was having a hard time keeping it up. He was diagnosed with kyphosis, or “swan neck deformity,” and the doctors recommend a third surgery to correct this spine curvature.
As a complication from the third surgery, Grim developed Horner’s syndrome. His left eyelid drooped and his left pupil was permanently dilated. He was out of work for another six months.
The surgeon rated Grim with a 57 percent permanent partial disability rating of the cervical spine. He had $302,000 in medical bills and $118,000 in lost wages. Grim filed two lawsuits on the same day and his lawyers immediately moved to have the two cases consolidated.
“We were afraid that if we had two different juries handling two different cases, the defense would point the finger at the other accident and Mr. Grim could be left with no recovery,” Levine explained. “No one was saying Mr. Grim caused either accident; it was just a matter of finding out who was responsible for what injuries.”
Apple Oil was defended by Jeffrey Lahr, of Vehslage & Lahr in Wethersfield. Dana Beyer, of Meehan, Turret & Rosenbaum in Wallingford, defended Verlingieri. Beyer could not be reached for comment.
De Lucia said that earlier in Grim’s treatment, the surgeon noted in the medical file that he was unsure which accident caused which injuries.
However, over time, the doctor opined that because Grim did not complain of neck pain until after the second accident, the more severe neck injury was a result of that crash. De Lucia said defense lawyers wanted to cross-examine the surgeon about his earlier notes regarding his inability to make such an assessment. But the trial judge opined that the earlier opinion was not presentable as evidence at trial and could not be questioned by the defense lawyers.
“That was the biggest win we could have. That took all the wind out of [the defense lawyers’] sails,” said De Lucia. “Then we started getting offer after offer. So in a space of four days their [settlement offers] went from $800,000 to $1.7 million.”
The first lawsuit, with Apple Oil, settled just before jury selection for $150,000. The trial then started as to the second case. Following the first day of evidence presentation, the defense offered $1.2 million. The defense admitted liability in the crash during the second day of evidence, after Grim testified. After the third day, the defense offer increased to $1.6 million; after the plaintiff’s lawyers finished presenting their case, the defense offered $1.7 million, which the two sides agreed on.
The jury consisted of five women and one man. In speaking to jurors afterward, the plaintiff’s lawyers discovered the women would have awarded substantial damages. The male juror, however, was convinced Grim hurt his neck in the first crash, not the second one. “So who knows what would’ve happened,” said De Lucia.
Grim’s lawyers said his employers have stuck with him, given that the work he does requires highly specialized training. However, because the job demands put a lot of strain on is neck, Grim expects he will have to find less strenuous employment in five to 10 more years. His lawyers said Grim has a very limited range of motion in his neck now and may still need a fourth surgery.
The one positive from the neck injury, the lawyers said, was that it led to the cancer being caught in its early stages.
Judge Awards $237,000 to Girl Attacked by Big Dog
Visible facial scars help plaintiff prevail over defense arguments
Mykelle Bullock, PPA v. Lynette Martinez: A 12-year-old girl bitten in the face by a neighbor’s dog has been awarded nearly $237,000 by a judge following a trial in Bridgeport.
On March 23, 2014, at about 1:30 p.m., Mykelle Bullock was walking home on Hillside Avenue in Bridgeport after going to a nearby grocery store, according to one of her family’s lawyers, Joseph De Lucia of De Lucia & Levine in Bridgeport.
De Lucia said while Bullock was walking, she heard a gate open in front of a home and heard a dog barking. One of the neighbor’s little dogs then came up to her, bit her lower pant leg and held on, though its teeth didn’t puncture Bullock’s skin. While she was dealing with that situation, De Lucia said a much larger dog, a Labrador retriever named Hazel, planted two paws on Bullock’s shoulder and then bit her in the face.
De Lucia said Bullock, who is being raised by her great aunt, was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, where doctors consulted with a plastic surgeon. Physicians stitched up Bullock’s wound and she was also given a series of rabies shots.
The wound left a 2-centimeter-long scar on her right cheek. Bullock later followed up with a visit to a plastic surgeon, who said he needed to wait a year and see what happens with the scar. According to the lawyer, the surgeon wants to delay any procedure until Bullock is at least 14 years old.
De Lucia explained that the scar was hypertrophic, or raised, but could be lessened some with eventual plastic surgery.
“The plastic surgeon said that African-Americans can scar differently than someone of Caucasian descent,” said De Lucia. “The scar, because it’s light, is more noticeable than it would be on a Caucasian person because of the color contrast.”
De Lucia said Bullock, who is 13 now, is self-conscious about the scar, as most girls that age would be. He said people often ask her what happened.
“If you looked at this pretty young girl and saw the right side of her face, you’d notice something had happened,” said De Lucia. “It does bother her. She has a permanent scar now; maybe it’ll be a little less noticeable after the surgery.”
Bullock’s family’s lawyers sued the dogs’ owner, Lynette Martinez, for strict liability negligence under the state dog bite statute. The statute makes a dog’s owner or keeper responsible to an injured party unless the injured person had trespassed or teased or tormented the dog. That was not the case here, De Lucia said.
De Lucia said liability was clear-cut. He filed a motion for summary judgment as to liability, which the trial judge granted. Then the case proceeded to a hearing on damages before Superior Court Judge Michael Kamp. Martinez was defended by Shari Pearlman of Meehan, Turret & Rosenbaum in Wallingford, which is counsel for Liberty Mutual insurance. Pearlman did not respond to an interview request.
“They seemed to argue that the family was just looking for a payday regarding the injury,” said Nicole Levine, the other plaintiff’s lawyer, who tried the case with De Lucia.
Immediately after the attack, Bullock wrote about it on Instagram and other social media. She mentioned the possibility of litigation the same day she was bitten. “That was something the defense was jumping all over, that on the day of the accident [the family] was already contemplating a lawsuit,” said Levine. “Our rebuttal to that was the injury was so severe … that the only way to bring justice to her is to sue.”
At the hearing on damages, the plastic surgeon, Bullock and her great aunt testified. The defense presented no witnesses. De Lucia said unlike some personal injury cases involving a back injury that results in doctors debating the extent of an injury only seen on an MRI, this injury was visible on the girl’s face for the judge to see.
“Mykelle is very mature for her age and very articulate,” said Levine. “She made a nice impression. I think the judge factored that in with the verdict.”
Kamp awarded a total of $236,602. Of that amount, $11,602 was for economic damages, which included her past medical bills and the future cost of the procedure on her scar. The remaining $225,000 was for noneconomic damages.
Levine said some of the money will go to pay for the medical procedure for Bullock’s scar, while the rest will be set aside for her college tuition.
Jury awards mom, daughter more than $350,000 for car crash injuries
Published 2:35 pm, Monday, November 22, 2010
BRIDGEPORT– A mother and her adopted daughter were awarded more than $350,000 Monday by a Superior Court jury for injuries they suffered in a car crash three years ago.
The jury deliberated about two hours before finding Kadeem West, 20, of Bridgeport, liable for the crash and ordered him to pay 47-year-old Margaret Davis $235,796 and 18-year-old Charlene Fogle $115,119.
According to DeLucia, on Aug. 27, 2007, Davis was driving her car south on Main Street near Park Drive with Fogle, then 14, in the backseat when their car was rear ended by a car being driven by West.
Both women suffered extensive neck and back injuries, DeLucia said.