Vinit Shah MD v. Michael Morin, et al.: A Poughkeepsie, N.Y., doctor whose vehicle collided with a tractor trailer on Interstate 91, and who suffered permanent injuries that prevent him from practicing medicine, has settled his case for $1 million.
But the matter isn’t completely over. The truck driver still has a lawsuit pending against the doctor.
Around 5 p.m. on April 9, 2009, Dr. Vinit Shah and his wife, Dipti, were headed back to Poughkeepsie after attending a wedding in West Hartford. As they headed south on I-91, near Meriden, a large-tractor trailer came up close behind their Honda, according to the couples’ lawyer, Charles Douthat, of Jacobs & Dow in New Haven.
The rig was driven by Michael Morin and owned by MJ&J Transportation Specialists Inc. Morin was under contract to transport goods for American Transportation and Logistics LLC.
Douthat said even though both vehicles were in the right lane, Morin did not try to pass the Shahs. Finally, Vinit Shah said he decided to move into the center lane to get away from the truck. However, Douthat said his client remembers braking slightly as he shifted lanes and then felt a tap from behind. He lost control of his vehicle. As Shah steered back towards the right, he ended up hitting the back side of the tractor trailer. The second impact sent Shah’s vehicle across the center and left lanes and smashing into the highway median.
Both Vinit and Dipti Shah were unconscious after the crash. Vinit Shah was flown by Life-Star to Yale New Haven Hospital. He was diagnosed with a displaced right leg fracture and internal injuries.
Shah, as a result of the bad fracture, suffered an embolism after the surgery to repair the leg. The embolism traveled through his bloodstream and caused Shah, then 47, to suffer a major stroke. He was put into a medically induced coma to save his life. “Literally, he was not conscious and not speaking for about a month after they performed surgery on his leg,” said Douthat. “Then he went through months of rehab.”
Douthat said the stroke left Shah with short-term memory and depth perception problems. “It caused damage to his optic nerve,” the lawyer said. “He can only see a very narrow band of sight. He has little depth perception. He can’t drive anymore, can’t see patients anymore. He’s essentially disabled.”
Douthat said his client was trained as an internist but at the time of the crash was director of a mental health facility. “He can’t practice medicine anymore and he’s limited to what he can do by himself,” said Douthat. “Still a brilliant guy and tries to keep up with medicine, but it’s a very limited life he’s going to have now, unfortunately.”
The doctor’s wife had less serious injuries, but was still unconscious for a day and a half after the accident. She suffered fractures of the sternum, ribs and clavicle, as well as a separated shoulder. “She missed a week of work but has no long-term deficits from the injuries,” said Douthat.
Douthat said the truck driver tells a much different tale of how the accident occurred. Morin reported to police that just before the collision, he observed the Shah’s vehicle passing him in the far left lane. Suddenly, said, Morin, smoke came from the front of the car, which the truck driver attributed to a blown tire. Morin reported that the Shah’s vehicle then swerved back across two lanes of traffic and crashed into the rear of his trailer.
The police report reached no conclusion as to why Vinit Shah lost control of his vehicle. Photos showed that the Honda’s two front tires were intact. The only other witness, a driver of the car behind Morin’s truck, could confirm only that he saw the Shah vehicle in the left hand lane, apparently out of control, just ahead of the tractor-trailer.
At the scene, Morin reported no injuries of his own to the police.
However, in February 2011, Vinit Shah received a summons to appear in Hartford Superior Court because he was being sued by Morin, who now claimed he had been so seriously injured in the crash that he could no longer work as a truck driver. Shah’s insurance carrier, Geico, told him he should contact a lawyer, as the policy might not be enough to cover damages.
“Really, the only reason he came to me was because he had been sued,” said Douthat. At that point, the Shahs weren’t planning their own lawsuit. In fact, no one had asked Vinit Shah his side of the story. By the time he was released from the hospital, the police weren’t interested in pursuing the matter, Douthat said. “I listened,” the lawyer said. “Nobody had ever heard his story before and he really had a catastrophic injury.”
Douthat then sued Morin in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. The case was moved to state court and consolidated with the claim Morin brought against Vinit Shah. Attorney Timothy Hauburger, of the Law Offices of Cynthia Jaworski in Rocky Hill, defended Morin and his insurance carrier, CNA. Hauburger did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
At Morin’s deposition, the truck driver testified that he had been driving tractor trailers for nearly 30 years and had a spotless safety record. Morin claimed that he had developed severe hypertension as a result of the emotional stress of this collision, which in turn caused him to retire on disability. He also claimed the impact caused him to lose many of his teeth.
Douthat hired an expert accident reconstructionist who opined that there was no evidence of a tire blowout on Shah’s vehicle. The expert said there was no tire debris at the scene and the tires were intact, according to accident photos. Further, the back tires were deflated but the expert said that was a common result; violent collision often cause tires to come off the rims.
The same expert testified that getting tapped from behind by a vehicle when driving at highway speeds can cause complete loss of control of a vehicle.
Eventually, Douthat said Morin’s insurance carrier agreed to settle the Shahs’ lawsuit for the policy limit of $1 million. Officially, Vinit Shah received $975,000 and his wife $25,000 for her injuries. The total medical bills in the case were $910,000. “The trucking company, in my view, had inadequate coverage,” said Douthat.
Morin’s lawsuit against Vinit Shah is scheduled to go to trial in June. Morin is represented by A. Patrick Alcarez, of Butler, Norris & Gold in Hartford.
While Douthat is assisting in the defense, Dennis McManus, of the Law Offices of Paul Sullivan in West Hartford, is taking the lead. He was hired by Geico.
“Dr. Shah was a forthright credible guy with terrible injuries,” said Douthat. “CNA would never have paid the policy limits if they thought Mr. Morin was the more believable witness.”