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Judge adjusts settlements in 2007 tanker crash on I-95 in East Lyme

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published October 11. 2013 5:00PM   Updated October 11. 2013 11:38PM

Hartford Judge Kevin G. Dubay this week ordered that attorney fees, interest and other costs be added to the $15.7 million a Superior Court judge awarded this spring to the surviving family members and injured victims of a deadly crash on Interstate 95 in November 2007 that left three people dead.

The judge also reduced two of the six verdicts. With the adjustments, the six awards now total $21,992,286.

A jury in April found that Northeast Carriers, the owner of the tanker truck that jumped the median near the Interstate 395 interchange in East Lyme, and the estate of tanker driver Peter Derry, were negligent and reckless. The tanker rammed into a southbound tractor-trailer, causing a pileup. Derry, 51, of Webster, Mass., died along with two others.

Attorney Matthew Shafner, who represented the estate of Lu-Ann Dugas of East Lyme, said that because some of the verdicts were in excess of compromise offers made by the defendant in April 2011, interest was added to the compromise amounts because the court system encourages people to settle their cases. Attorneys fees were awarded because there was a finding of reckless driving, he said.

The jury had awarded $3,763,100 to the Dugas estate. The amount, with enhancements, is now $5,479,195. Dugas had been returning from a medical appointment and was crushed by the roof of her car, according to testimony. She died at the scene.

The jury awarded $5,575,000 to James Clark, the 27-year-old driver of the southbound tractor-trailer, who suffered extensive injuries, including foot, leg and rib fractures, a back injury and head trauma. The enhanced award totals $8,955,824. Clark was represented by New London attorney Shelley L. Graves.

The jury awarded $1,069,500 to Lynn Mariani, a fellow teacher who was carpooling with Samira Clough of Mystic to a teachers' workshop. Judge Dubay reduced the amount to $669,500, then added attorneys fees and costs, bringing the new total to $906,974. Mariani was represented by Groton attorney Peter Bartinik Sr., who said that Mariani's physical injuries were not severe, but she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bartinik, who had elicited testimony at the trial from Charles Morgan, a renowned psychiatric and forensic expert, said Mariani has returned to teaching and is doing well but could have setbacks in the future. However, Bartinik said, a judge has the prerogative to reduce a verdict if he feels there is not sufficient evidence to support the jury's award of future economic damages, which in Mariani's case would entail medical expenses.

"I'm not shocked by the reduction," Bartinik said Friday in a phone interview. "But I'm shocked it was considerable."

The jury awarded $2,218,000 to Clough, a teacher who suffered a cracked vertebrae and a foot injury and who was forced into early retirement. The judge reduced the award to $1,718,000 but added attorney's fees and interest, bringing the new total to $2,897,750. Clough was represented by attorney Dina Fisher of New Haven.

The jury awarded $3,210,000 to the estate of Fred Held of Milford, who was returning there from a local casinos and died in his Honda Accord. The enhanced award amount is $3,654,458. The estate was represented by attorney Carl Secola of New Haven.

The judge increased the $50,000 awarded to South Bay Trucking, the owners of the tractor-trailer that Clark was driving, to $98,000.

The plaintiffs have not yet collected their awards. Since Northeast Carriers only had $2.6 million in insurance coverage, the attorneys are attempting to recover some of the damages from Northeast's parent company, the Brooklyn, Conn.-based Saveway Petroleum, according to Shafner.

k.florin@theday.com

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