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Elderly Woman Collects $1.1 Million For Brain Injury
The Connecticut Law Tribune
Adele Scavone v. Lorin Feldhouse, et al.: An elderly woman who suffered a brain injury as a result of a car wreck with a homeless drunk driver recently received a jury award of more than $1.1 million.
Adele Scavone, now 87, from Naugatuck, was a passenger in a friend's vehicle headed westbound on Interstate-691 in Meriden at around 8 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2008. Traffic was backing up due to a previous accident on the other side of the highway. As the vehicle Scavone was riding in slowed, a car driven by Lorin Feldhouse but owned by a car dealership smashed into it.
Scavone's trial lawyer, Brian Flood, of the Flood Law Firm in Middletown, said Feldhouse was speeding, though no one's sure how fast he was going. "It was a big, big accident. Both cars were totaled as a result," said Flood. Scavone hit her head, said Flood, and the passenger seat "broke and went straight back. She was facing up looking at the ceiling."
Flood said it was a chaotic scene on the highway that evening. He said pedestrians looking at the initial accident on the other side of the highway were hit by the vehicles from the second crash.
Scavone was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and x-rays revealed a subdural hematoma, or brain bleed on the left side of her head. Doctors performed what's called a burr hole procedure, during which they drill into the head to remove a blood clot from near the brain's surface.
Because of the invasive brain surgery, Flood said Scavone has had problems with weakness of her right side, especially her arm and leg. She was eventually transferred to Gaylord Hospital, a rehabilitation facility in Wallingford, where she underwent speech and physical therapy.
"You wouldn't know now she had any speech deficits but following this [accident] she did," said Flood.
However, the problems involving the right side of the body have persisted and Flood said his client has trouble writing and can no longer drive a car. "Doctors did indicate these deficits she was experiencing were directly the result of a left side hematoma" on the brain, said Flood.
While Scavone was receiving the inital treatment at Yale-New Haven, Feldhouse, the driver who caused the crash, was being charged with driving while intoxicated and reckless endangerment with a motor vehicle. As Scavone's lawyers prepared to file a lawsuit, they learned the odd tale of how Feldhouse came to be behind the wheel that night.
Feldhouse was a homeless man living out of his truck when a deacon approached a man named Kevin O'Sullivan, who ran CK Auto Wholesalers in Plainville. The deacon asked O'Sullivan if he could find some work for the down-on-his-luck Feldhouse. O'Sullivan obliged and allowed Feldhouse to stay at the car dealership and perform odd jobs.
The dealer's story is that one day Feldhouse had been drinking and took one of the cars for a spin. O'Sullivan received a phone call about the incident, confronted Feldhouse and fired him, since he never had permission to drive any vehicles. Feldhouse also was reportedly told he could no longer stay at the dealership and had to turn in the keys to the business. However, O'Sullivan claims that on the night of the accident, Feldhouse returned to the dealership and stole one of its vehicles.
Flood, on behalf of his client, sued not only sued Feldhouse, but also O'Sullivan, CK Auto Wholesalers and Coddington Automotive, of Plainville, which owned the auto wholesaler.
The latter three defendants claimed they were not liable, as Feldhouse did not have permission to drive the dealer's car. However, Flood noted that charges were never pressed against Feldhouse for allegedly breaking in and stealing the car. "There were a number of statements [the defendants] had given to their insurance company and they were entirely inconsistent," said Flood.
The car Feldhouse crashed had been purchased at an auction and had Coddington Automotive dealer plates on it. But there was a dispute, Flood said, over who truly owned the car. And there was another dispute over who had been Feldhouse's employer Coddington Automotive or O'Sullivan in his individual capacity.
O'Sullivan waivered on the question, first pointing to Coddington before ultimately saying the homeless man worked for him. Coddington executives said they did not even know who Feldhouse was. He could not be located and did not appear at the trial; Flood believes he remains homeless.
There was a further complication: Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co., which insured the Coddington Automotive vehicle, chose not to defend Feldhouse and stated it would only represent Coddington. O'Sullivan chose to represent himself and CK Auto Wholesalers pro se.
Meriden Superior Court Judge Vernon Oliver presided at a trial that lasted for about four days. Representing Coddington's insurance company was James Shields, of Sharp, Shields & Smith in Rocky Hill. Shields could not be reached for comment for this article.
Because Empire Fire & Marine would not defend Feldhouse, Flood filed a claim against his client's insurer, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, for uninsured motorist benefits. Amica reached a pre-trial settlment with Scavone for $262,500.
At trial, Flood pointed to a Connecticut statute that states that when the driver of a motor vehicle is not the owner, he is presumed to be the agent of the owner and driving the vehicle in the course of his employment, unless the defendant can prove otherwise.
The jury apparently did not believe the defendants' arguments that Feldhouse worked entirely for O'Sullivan and that Feldhouse took the car without permission. After deliberating for a little over two hours, the jury held all the defendants liable. Because reckless driving was involved, a damages award of roughly $563,000 was doubled, by statute, resulting in the final verdict of $1,127,016.
Flood said Coddington Automotive's insurer, Empire Fire & Marine, would have to pay all of the damages. Meanwhile, Amica Mutual is seeking reimbursement from Empire Fire & Marine for settlement paid in the uninsured motorist claim.
Flood said Scavone is happy to put the case behind her. "It was the first time she ever set foot in a courtroom," he said. "She's a sweet 87-year-old woman."
Assisting Flood was attorney Jose Altamirano, of Fitzpatrick, Mariano & Santos in Naugatuck.