There are big verdicts that simply stand on their own. And then there are others that help set new standards for future cases. A $25 million verdict handed down last week in Bridgeport Superior Court could be in the second category, according to a leading trial lawyer.
The jury award is the largest known verdict in Connecticut history for a lawsuit against the state. The verdict came at the end of a five-day trial of a man who was hit by a state police cruiser traveling, according to the plaintiffs, at 100 mph. The man lost a leg and sustained other injuries.
Even though the man, a Bridgeport restaurant owner, was found partially at fault for crossing a highway in the middle of the night, he and his lawyers will come away with a little more than $16 million. "That's a big deal," said Jim Nugent, of Nugent & Bryant in New Haven, who was not involved in the case.
"We don't have any other way of determining what the value of people's misery and losses compute to unless a jury tells us," said Nugent, a former chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association's Litigation Section. "A judge, mediator, arbitrator cannot substitute for what a jury of our peers determines is the value... [This verdict] will be a determining factor in future settlements of similar cases."
The plaintiff was represented by the personal injury firm of Stratton Faxon, which turned the case into a referendum on the conduct of a state trooper who allegedly left the scene of the crash, allowed the in-crusier video of it to be erased and then returned to the scene later to interrogate the injured man before calling for medical help.
"The man is a member of the police union, it's virtually impossible to discipline or fire him," said attorney Joel T. Faxon. "There would be innumerable criminal charges if anybody else did this but he's allowed to proceed with his career."
Representing the state were James E. Coyne and Colleen D. Fries, of Coyne, von Kuhn, Brady & Fries in Stratford. The attorneys declined to comment for this story.
State police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance declined to comment as well, directing questions to the state Attorney General's Office, which is in charge of defending lawsuits against the state. The AG's Office noted that Coyne's firm was actually hired by the state's insurance company, and that any decision to appeal lies with the insurer.
Nine Inches Away
It was after 2 a.m. on May 29, 2010 and Melvin Gordils, 48, a man well known in the Puerto Rican business community in Bridgeport, had just closed up one of his businesses, a restaurant called El Tropicale and was headed home. (Gordils also had a business as a contractor/builder.)