Gina DellaRose v. Blythe Greeno: A former high school track star who was injured when the car she was riding in rolled over after hitting a tree stump has settled a lawsuit against the vehicle’s driver — who was intoxicated — for $1 million.

Gina DellaRose, now 26, was celebrating the new year with friends on Dec. 31, 2011.

“It was 12:30 a.m. right after the ball dropped,” said one of DellaRose’s lawyers, Garrett Moore Jr., of Moore, O’Brien, Yelenak & Foti in Cheshire. “That’s when you worry the most about these stupid kids driving drunk on New Year’s… [DellaRose] should’ve known better than to get in the car.”

Moore, who handled the case with his father, Garrett Moore Sr., said DellaRose got in the car with Blythe Greeno, the only other female in the group. The younger Moore said the two weren’t really friends; Greeno was more of a “friend of a friend.”

The group left a bar and headed to another friend’s house in East Hampton. “Admittedly, nobody at the bar thought the defendant was intoxicated,” said Moore. “The defendant herself didn’t think she was intoxicated.”

Moore said Greeno, now 31, was not slurring her words or stumbling when she walked.

Behind the wheel, Greeno took her eyes off of the road for a split second to change the radio station. In doing so, she drifted off the road to the right, hit a tree stump and the car then flipped over.

Greeno was charged by police with driving while intoxicated. Tests revealed her blood alcohol content to be nearly twice the legal limit. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended after 30 days, and two years of probation. She also paid a $583 fine.

Beyond bumps and bruises, Greeno came out of the wreck physically unscathed. The same could not be said for DellaRose. “It was obvious at the scene my client had fractured something. My client was in a lot of pain,” said Moore.

Paramedics took DellaRose to the hospital, where she was ultimately diagnosed with fractures to two vertebrae in her back—at T12-L1, the last vertebrae in the middle back area, and L1-L2, which are the first vertebrae in the low back.

The injury required fusion surgery, with screws, rods and other hardware placed in her back. “She just went in this past month for surgery to have the hardware removed. It was causing her a lot of pain,” said Moore.

Moore explained that DellaRose is petite in stature, around 5 feet tall and weighing barely 100 pounds. As such, he said it was possible that the hardware bothered her more than it does most people. DellaRose was hopeful that removing it would alleviate her pain. “I don’t know the result of it at this point. It’s only been a couple weeks now,” said Moore.

DellaRose’s doctors have rated her with a 25 percent permanent partial disability to the thoracic spine area and a 15 percent rating to the lumbar spine. Her medical bills total about $124,000.

Moore said the back injury has had a significant impact on DellaRose’as life. It hurts her to hug anyone and she has pain when sitting for prolonged periods. She had nightmares after the crash and remains fearful something similar will happen to her loved ones. “She’s very close with her family, and she makes it a point to say goodbye when she sees somebody because she knows it could be the last time she says hello or goodbye,” said Moore.

Perhaps the biggest change to DellaRose’s life is that she can no longer run. She was training for a marathon at the time of the crash. “She was an incredible athlete,” said Moore. “She was a runner her entire life, on the track team, played soccer. Nobody’s been able to beat her records.”

Moore said DellaRose once ran a mile in 5:10, easily a winning time in most high school track meets. She was honored as athlete of the year and athlete of the decade at Woodland Regional High School in Becon Falls. She went on to run track and play soccer at Southern Connecticut State University.

Moore said DellaRose is greatly upset she can no longer run. She tries to stretch and do some yoga. The attorney said she is engaged to be married and his looking forward to the next chapter in her life. “If you talk to her, she has a great outlook on life,” said Moore.

DellaRose sued Greeno for negligence as well as statutory and common law recklessness. Greeno was insured by State Farm and defended in the lawsuit by Karen Karpie, of Murphy & Karpie in Bridgeport. Karpie did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Moore said the defense did not contest liability, instead focusing on damages. Karpie noted what a remarkable recovery she made.

“Their whole focus was on that she made a great recovery,” said Moore. “She had the fusion and couldn’t run a five-minute mile anymore, but getting back to her daily routine in life she was doing pretty well. That was their view.”

The two sides opted to attend a mediation with former Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, who is now in private practice at Pullman & Comley. Afterward, the two sides agreed to settle for $1 million rather than proceed to trial.

“She just wanted to put this behind her,” Moore said of his client. “If push came to shove she would’ve gone to trial but she didn’t want to relive that experience again. This was a great number and she was very happy with it.”•