Thomas McCauley v. Devin Schreyer: A 9-year-old boy who was nearly killed after the vehicle he was riding in was struck head-on by a dump truck was awarded nearly $8 million by a Bridgeport jury recently.

But the total damages will be much higher. The truck driver was deemed to be reckless, and not just negligent, opening the door for an additional $3 million in attorney fees. Moreover, the plaintiff’s counsel said there will be about $1 million in offer of compromise interest, bringing the total to about $12 million.

On June 26, 2010, Matthew McCauley was riding in the front passenger seat of his father’s vehicle after an afternoon spent swimming with his brother, Kenneth, and two friends. The father, Thomas McCauley, and the boys were heading home to Easton, where Matthew was going to get ready to head out to a Little League game.

As they headed north on Route 59, near the intersection with Church Road, a 12,500-pound dump truck driven by Devin Schreyer and owned by a landscaping company, Designing Nature, crossed the double yellow line and smashed into the McCauley vehicle.

One of the lawyers for the McCauley family, Paul Ganim, of Fairfield, said the front passenger side of the truck rammed into the front passenger side of the McCauley vehicle. As such, Matthew McCauley took the brunt of the collision.

The other passengers suffered minor injuries and their cases settled prior to Matthew’s trial. But the young boy was virtually “snapped in half,” said Ganim. Emergency responders had a difficult time extricating him from the wreckage, as the engine compartment was pushed toward the inside of the vehicle.

Ganim said paramedics gave the boy a coma rating of three. The only rating lower, he said, is death.

“At that time, they didn’t know if the boy would make it [through] the first couple of days at the hospital,” said Ganim. “Given the severity of his injuries, he’s made a remarkable recovery, though he’s not fully recovered.”

Ganim said Matthew suffered two badly broken legs and a broken heel. There were numerous facial fractures, including both temples and around the sinuses. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Matthew spent about a month in the hospital before returning home. He needed multiple procedures on both legs, though he was spared surgery on his face.

“His parents turned the living room into a hospital [room] for him,” said Ganim. For six months, the boy needed a wheelchair to get around, and then he gradually began using a walker. Later, doctors had to remove hardware from the boy’s legs, a surgical procedure that relegated Matthew to a wheelchair for an additional period of time.

The boy’s medical bills totaled $490,000, according to Ganim. “He’s receiving ongoing care to recover from the traumatic brain injury,” said Ganim. “He’s made a lot of progress, but will continue to have difficulties for the rest of his life.”

Ganim said Matthew attends some sort of therapy sessions, whether physical, occupational or speech, about three or four days a week. He’s 13 now and back at school, but needs the help of a tutor. “He’s not going to have a normal childhood. It’s a childhood burdened with treatment and care,” said Ganim.

Ganim said there was never an explanation for why the truck driver, Schreyer, drove across the double yellow lines. Alcohol and cellphone use were eliminated as factors, he said.

The McCauley family filed a lawsuit against Schreyer and his employer for negligence, as well as common law and statutory recklessness. As it became clear that Matthew’s lawsuit would not be settled, the family also hired Stewart Casper, of Casper & de Toledo in Stamford. Casper has experience trying cases involving plaintiffs with traumatic brain injuries.

“What was very apparent to me within minutes of looking at a couple critical documents … the case should’ve resolved for the [insurance] policy limit at least a year and a half before I was consulted,” said Casper. He claimed that the truck driver’s insurance company, Peerless Insurance, “had been negligent in the way that they handled the file. Insurance companies … have a duty to exercise reasonable care to resolve claims within the policy limit and from first blush of looking at the police report, it was clear to me that the driver of the dump truck had been acting recklessly.”

Casper said the plaintiff lawyers have a pending claim against the insurer for negligent failure to settle a claim—a complaint usually characterized as a bad-faith claim. Casper said he is hopeful he can work out a settlement in that case.

At trial, the defendants were represented by Gary Hohenthal, of Loccisano, Turret & Rosenbaum in Wallingford. Hohenthal did not return messages for this article. “I don’t understand what the defense’s argument was,” said Ganim. “I guess the defendant’s argument was [Matthew's condition is] not that bad.”

Evidence presentation began April 2 and the trial continued for three weeks before Judge Theodore Tyma in the Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport. The jury deliberated for about two-and-a-half hours before rendering a verdict of nearly $8 million. Specifically, the jury awarded $2,980,284 in economic damages and $5 million in noneconomic damages.

Because of the recklessness finding, the jurors decided the defendants should also pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees, which will amount to around $3 million. The offer of compromise interest will add another $1 million to the verdict.•