Anita Habrat v. George Talboys, et al.: A woman who suffered a significant neck injury during a hit-and-run accident was recently awarded $326,500 by a Stamford jury.
Anita Habrat, 39, a Polish immigrant living in Norwalk, was traveling down Washington Street around 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2011, when without warning a sport utility vehicle sped out of a bank parking lot, struck her car and sped off.
According to Habrat’s lawyer, Gregory O’Brien, of Moore, O’Brien, Yelenak & Foti in Cheshire, Habrat’s vehicle spun 360 degrees after being hit on the right rear quarter panel. Police who came to the accident scene discovered a license plate nearby. They traced it to a 1997 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle owned by George Talboys, who was insured by Allstate.
A witness described the SUV as silver or grayish in color, but Talboy’s SUV was black.
It was unclear if the license plate found at the scene had been there for some time, or whether it fell off as a result of the collision. Talboys emphatically denied having been the operator of the vehicle that struck Habrat’s car. He said that his daughter, who was the primary driver of the GMC Jimmy, lived and worked near the accident site and that the license plate likely fell off the SUV some time before the date of the collision.
This was a plausible explanation, O’Brien said, since the witness’ description of the SUV that hit Habrat did not match that of Talboys’ Jimmy, which was rusted and in poor condition.
However, a lawyer for Habrat’s insurance carrier, Michael Vitali, of Cella, Flanagan & Weber in North Haven, said the license plate was literally found at the point of impact and that both the witness and Habrat thought they heard a license plate fall.
Habrat filed a lawsuit against George Talboys, who was covered by Allstate Insurance. Additionally, she filed an uninsured motorist claim against her own insurer, IDS Property & Casualty Insurance, based on the altenative premise that she was struck by an unknown hit-and-run driver.
Vitali represented IDS. Marilyn Davidson, of the Law Office of Mark S. Gilcreast in Hamden, defended Talboys.
Vitali argued that Talboys was the operator of the hit-and-run vehicle since his license plate was found at the accident scene. But Talboys testified at trial that he was not the driver and told jurors about his daughter living and working in the area.
Regardless of who caused the crash, Habrat came away with a significant neck injury that will require surgery, her attorney said. However, O’Brien said his client has been unable to afford the operation. She works as a housekeeper in lower Fairfield County after coming to America six or seven years ago.
O’Brien said his client’s doctor initially recommended a conservative treatment approach, so she tried physical therapy, pain-killing injections and chiropractic care. However, none of those treatments helped, other than some short-term relief from the injections. So now her doctor has recommended surgery to repair the neck herniation.
O’Brien said his client’s pain has increased to the point where she has trouble doing all the mopping and sweeping her job requires. So she now sometimes brings her son to help her when he’s off from school.
“If she didn’t get the operation soon, she could be in serious neurological trouble,” said O’Brien. “Her condition is deteriorating.”
Habrat incurred $13,000 in past medical bills and her future surgical costs are estimated to be at least $20,000. Her doctor opined that she has a 15 percent permanent partial impairment of the cervical spine.
The case went to trial recently before Stamford Superior Court Judge David Tobin. Habrat and her son testified, as did Talboys. Her doctor testified via a videotaped deposition. Evidence presentation lasted two days.
The jury was first asked to determine whether Talboys was the operator of the hit-and-run vehicle. The jury’s answer was no. As such, Talboys was released from any liability. And so the case was transformed into an uninsured motorist claim against IDS Property & Casualty. Habrat’s policy provided uninsured motorist benefits for accidents caused by an unknown hit-and-run driver.
The jury then deliberated for about two hours and returned a $326,500 verdict for Habrat. Of that amount, $280,500 was for non-economic damages. However, Habrak had only $95,000 in uninsured motorist benefits available to her under her policy, so the judgment will be reduced to that amount.
“There’s no question she’ll get the surgery now,” said O’Brien of his client. “With the jury’s verdict she’ll have the funds to do it now.”
Vitali, who defended IDS, said he knew the insurer was in a difficult spot when Talboys testified that he wasn’t driving the car, and plaintiff’s attorney O’Brien concurred. “[The case] was an untenable position to try once [the jury] decided Mr. Talboys wasn’t the operator of the vehicle,” said Vitali.•