Alzira Gois v. Jonathan Asaro: A Norwalk woman who was injured after her vehicle was forced over a highway embankment by a tractor-trailer was recently awarded nearly $371,000 by a Stamford jury.
Alzira Gois, 65, originally from Brazil, was driving a 2005 Hyundai sedan northbound on Interstate 95 in the right lane of traffic near exit 10 in Darien at 12:38 p.m. on June 11, 2007.
At the same time, according to Gois’ lawyer, Frank DiScala Jr., of Bachand DiScala in Norwalk, Jonathan Asaro, a truck driver who owned his own rig, was also headed northbound on I-95, but in the center lane. DiScala said the truck driver abruptly moved into the right lane and crashed into the left side of Gois’ vehicle. The truck’s momentum pushed Gois’ car onto the right shoulder, and then flipped it over the embankment.
DiScala said Asaro never slowed down when switching lanes.
“She was literally thrown over a Jersey barrier, spiraling in the air three times before she hit the ground,” said DiScala. The tractor-trailer “pinned her car against the barrier and there was no place left for her to go. She remembers seeing a tire turning around and around right in her face in the window and then she heard a loud noise and was in the air.”
DiScala said Gois was knocked unconscious after her car went over the barrier. Some nearby construction workers came to her aid. “Alzira was completely unconscious,” said DiScala. “Her legs were twisted. [A witness] thought Alzira was dead. She was bleeding profusely from the broken windows.”
The woman wasn’t hurt as badly as it initially appeared. However, she still sustained a concussion, post-concussion syndrome, cracked ribs and a neck and a lower back injury. Over the long term, the attorney said, Gois has had memory problems and anxiety-related issues since the crash. Her regular doctor diagnosed her with a traumatic brain injury and possible post-traumatic stress disorder, but she has not been treated by a neuropsychologist, DiScala said.
DiScala noted that his client is now afraid to drive a car and hasn’t done so since the crash. He noted that this was significant as she was once a pilot when living in Brazil.
Gois, since moving to the United States, has worked as a nanny. After the crash, she could no longer do the job. DiScala explained that even if Gois was transported to work, she was very forgetful and could no longer be relied upon by the family.
Gois sued Asaro, who lived out-of-state and did not appear at the trial, noted DiScala. The complaint alleged negligence and recklessness.
The case went to trial in the fall before Judge Kenneth Povodator in Stamford Superior Court. Evidence presentation took about four days. DiScala was assisted by attorney Tanya M. Bachand, of the same firm.
Asaro, who was represented by a lawyer hired by his insurance company, Brock T. Dubin, of Donahue, Durham & Noonan in Guilford, did not contest liability. Instead, the defense focused on damages, including the $76,000 worth of medical bills Gois incurred. Dubin noted that Gois did not have health insurance.
Among Dubin’s arguments was that Gois’ emotional problems, including her fear of driving, pre-dated the crash. “The defense capitalized on medical records,” admitted DiScala. “[Gois] went for counseling and talked about how her father had died at a young age, at 40 years old, by a car accident.”
DiScala acknowledged that he wanted his client to see specialists for her brain injury, but that she stopped seeking treatment because it was getting too expensive. DiScala said Dubin did a great job defending the case, but he believes the testimony of three plaintiffs’ witnesses — including Gois — swayed the jury.
“She was able to convey through her testimony a sense of ‘wow,’” said DiScala. “She was endearing, credible and a bit confused, which was in my mind the appropriate manifestation of the effects of being run off the road by a tractor-trailer.”
Another plaintiff’s witness was a New York City business executive who narrowly avoided the crash. DiScala said the executive, a woman, was really able to capture the emotion of the accident scene. She was driving a sport utility vehicle with her two young children as passengers; all three saw Gois’ car flip over the embankment.
“She was able to create that moment,” said DiScala. “The witness said [Gois' vehicle] went 15 feet up into the air like a rocket and that [both vehicles] were going 65 miles per hour.”
The woman who hired Gois as her nanny also testified. The woman said Gois would always make coffee but, after the crash, once handed her a cup containing only hot water. “She can’t have [Gois] watch her cat now,” DiScala said, parasphrasing the witnesses’ testimony.
The jury deliberated for three days and then sided with Gois, awarding her $370,959. DiScala said the verdict amount was “right where I figured it might be.”
Prior to trial, DiScala said the defense offered $60,000. At the start of trial, the offer was upped to $190,000, defense attorney Dubin said. Gois again declined. Dubin said the plaintiffs ultimately asked the jury for $1.7 million. “I think that the plaintiff and her employer were very sympathetic [witnesses],” said Dubin. “But I guess not too sympathetic, because they didn’t give her the $1.7 million.”
After the trial, the judge denied Dubin’s motion to set aside the verdict.
Dubin plans to file an appeal on grounds that “the jury viewed medical records suggesting the plaintiff had post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury and the doctors who made the diagnosis weren’t qualified to make the diagnosis.” Dubin said the physicians were not qualified to make the diagnosis because they were primary care-type physicians and not specialists.•