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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Pennsylvania Woman Awarded $15.8 Million Under Old Law

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A Pennsylvania woman was recently awarded a $15.8 million settlement – 4.8 million in medical care, $7 million in pain and suffering and $4 million in loss of enjoyment of life -stemming from a 2010 auto accident that occurred in a construction zone.  An Allegheny County jury found the driver of the other vehicle 42% responsible, and Lane Construction Corp. and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), 18% and 40% respectively, liable for an unsafe work zone.

The seriously injured victim, a passenger in her son’s Hyundai Elantra, was on her way to the rehearsal dinner for her daughter’s wedding when the accident occurred.  Her son was waiting to make a left turn into a restaurant parking lot because oncoming traffic was backed up in the left lane as drivers merged from two lanes to one for the construction area.  When a driver in the left lane allowed him to turn, their car was hit by a pick-up truck in the right lane who didn’t see the Hyundai.  The 52-year-old victim sustained a closed head injury, and was resuscitated on the scene by a relative who was an EMT.  She was in a coma for five weeks, required a partial temporal lobectomy to relieve pressure from brain swelling, and was subsequently diagnosed with an acute subdural hematoma and hemorrhagic brain contusions.  According to court records, she also sustained torso injuries and had a tracheotomy and gastric feeding tube installed.  Five years later, the woman still suffers from cognitive deficits, including memory loss and poor judgment, continues to suffer left-sided paralysis, and requires round-the-clock care.

The lawsuit alleged that Lane Construction Corp. which was reconstructing a bridge in the area, and PennDOT should have been on notice of the dangerous condition, but failed to identify and mitigate the problem.  According to the plaintiff’s attorney, the construction zone was dangerous and no improvements were made after several previous collisions in the same area. He argued that five prior accidents had occurred in the construction zone—two of which were on the same day as the plaintiff’s accident.  An expert witness for the plaintiff said that PennDOT could have banned left turns in the area until the construction was completed.

PennDOT and the negligent driver settled before trial, with PennDOT paying the $250,000 cap required by Pennsylvania tort reform.  Lane Construction is responsible for the majority of the recovery, although an appeal is expected.

Fortunately, this case preceded the Fair Share Act signed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011 which states “where liability is attributed to more than one defendant, each defendant shall be liable for that proportion of the total dollar amount awarded as damages in the ratio of the amount of that defendant’s liability to the amount of liability attributed to all defendants and other persons to whom liability is apportioned.”  In other words, if this lawsuit was filed in 2012, Lane Construction would have paid approximately $2.8 million, 18% of the verdict they were found liable for, rather than being fully liable for the entire award in situations where other defendants can’t pay their portion of the plaintiff award.

While the award may sound significant, a woman is permanently disabled.  Putting aside pain, suffering, and quality of life, $2.8 million doesn’t even come close to paying medical expenses.  A jury decided the value of her pain, suffering, medical expenses, and quality of life. Why does a selfish legislature get to say otherwise?  According to the plaintiff’s attorney, future medical and care expenses alone are estimated at nearly $5 million. What about her past medical expenses? This innocent passenger would have been significantly under-compensated because the government entity enjoyed an unreasonable cap at $250,000. If she only collected $250,000, how does the additional $2 million in medical care and $5 million in future care get paid?  Answer; Medicaid, Medicare, assistance programs, i.e. taxpayers!  Most people that support tort reform also support personal responsibility and lower taxes.  Yet, they don’t realize that a tort reform stance shifts the burden of responsibility from the wrongdoer to the taxpayers.  Do we want taxpayers accountable for a wealthy corporation’s negligence?

Tort reformers seek to limit our constitutional rights under the 7th Amendment of the Constitution. They eliminate a victim’s rights to have damages determined by a jury’s sound decision.  By doing so, tort reformers challenge our freedom.  The 7th Amendment provides an unfettered right to a jury trial in America;  over the past few years, corporations have bankrolled political campaigns, in essence, buying votes for unconstitutional corporate protections when those corporations are sued by seriously injured citizens.  However, we citizens have the power to make change, too.  We can prevent the corporate usurpation of our civil rights by exercising our right to vote. Remember – the Constitution states “For the People” not “For the Corporations.”  It’s time for individual citizens to fight to restore our civil justice system.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company