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Delco Jury Awards $7.6 Mil. In Car Accident Suit

Gina Passarella, The Legal Intelligencer

June 28, 2007

A Delaware County jury awarded a severely injured man and his wife $7.6 million for injuries he suffered after a car accident in Chadds Ford.

While the award is one of the highest out of Delaware County in recent years, plaintiff Bernard Radecki will only see $100,000 of that award due to findings of liability, according to his attorney, Thomas F. Sacchetta of Sacchetta & Baldino in Media.

Radecki, 61 years old at the time, was driving west down Route 1/Baltimore Pike in October 1999 when Vincent J. Mow – who was driving east on the road – lost control of his vehicle from hydroplaning and ran into Radecki’s car, according to court documents.

Radecki was seriously injured by all accounts, breaking both of his legs and both arms and sustaining internal injuries. He had, according to court documents, at least six surgeries to be able to walk again and go on with normal activities.

About eight months after the surgery, Radecki attempted to go back to his job as a vice president of an energy-related company, but Sacchetta said he was only able to work for a year and a half before having to stop.

Mow’s attorney, George Dale of Kent & McBride in Philadelphia, said his client settled in 2003 for his policy’s limit of $100,000 under a joint tortfeasor release. He did not participate in trial other than to read that release into the record before the jury was selected, Dale said.

“We knew it was a bad case and Mr. Radecki was a really, really nice man,” Dale said.

After that, Sacchetta’s case focused on design and maintenance liability on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“I expected a verdict against Mow, so I was trying to put some responsibility on PennDOT,” Sacchetta said.

He argued that the design and maintenance of the roadway allowed drains to clog and water to accumulate on the road. That, Sacchetta said, was what caused Mow to hydroplane and lose control of his car. He said he had also argued that Mow was driving too fast for conditions.

PennDOT, through Deputy Attorney General Allan Ells, argued that there was nothing improper about the design of the road. The department said the road was sloped in an appropriate way to allow for water to flow off, and it said there was no evidence of any maintenance problems that would have caused the drains to clog, according to court documents.

If PennDOT were found liable, any damages against it would have been limited to a statutory cap of $250,000, Sacchetta said.

There are reservations for attorneys thinking about taking these types of cases, he said, adding that there was no incentive for PennDOT to settle because its exposure was already limited. There were no offers from PennDOT prior to trial, Sacchetta said.

The trial was held before Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Charles B. Burr II from June 18 through June 21.

The eight-member jury deliberated on Thursday, June 21, for about two and a half hours, Sacchetta said. The jury found that Mow was 100 percent liable and did not find any negligence on the part of PennDOT. Radecki was awarded $6.6 million in compensable damages and his wife, Frances, was awarded $1 million for loss of consortium, according to court documents.

While Sacchetta said he wasn’t surprised that the jury awarded over $7.6 million, he said he was happy to see such a high amount, given that Delaware County is often looked at as “fairly conservative.”

“My client made a tremendous witness,” he said.

Sacchetta said he would probably file post-trial motions regarding PennDOT’s responsibility in the case.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office was pleased with the verdict and that there was no negligence attributed to PennDOT.

Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs were engineer Joseph A. Thompson Jr. and orthopedic surgeon Charles D. Hummer, Sacchetta said. PennDOT used engineer Joseph P. Tarris as an expert witness, he said.

Reprinted with permission from the “ISSUE DATE” edition of the “PUBLICATION.” © “2007” ALM Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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