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Concluding the award “shocks the sense of justice,” Judge Jon M. Alander has reduced a Waterbury, Conn., jury’s record consortium verdict of $7.25 million to $1 million, for the widow of trench collapse victim Bernard Milligan. Ruling recently on postverdict motions, Alander also sliced $356,216 from the May 3 award of $1.3 million in actual damages for the Trumbull, Conn., plumbing contractor’s death on Dec. 13, 2000, while working at Norwalk, Conn.’s MerrittView office complex. Alander, who sits on the Waterbury Complex Litigation Docket, let stand the jury’s $7.25 million award for Bernard Milligan’s noneconomic damages such as pain, suffering and loss of life’s enjoyment when he was crushed at the age of 37 with a 40-year life expectancy. LIFE IN RUINS As for the consortium award for his widow, Alander wrote, “Its enormity leads me to conclude that the jury was swayed by sympathy for Lynette Milligan [hearing] how difficult her life had become after the death of her husband.” Lynette Milligan’s lawyer, Neil W. Sutton of Bridgeport, Conn.’s Adelman, Hirsch & Newman, said the ruling left him chagrined. “I was amazed that the judge went as far as he did,” Sutton said in an interview. “The jury decided, and I think quite rightly so, that Lynette Milligan’s life was ruined to an extent that could be equivalent to her husband’s loss of life. “Not only did he work six or seven days a week, he managed the household affairs, did all the grocery shopping, bought the kids clothes before school — he did everything,” Sutton said of Bernard Milligan. After his death, his widow, Sutton said, “went from a nice house in Trumbull to basically a tenement in Shelton.” James E. Coyne, of Stratford, Conn.’s Coyne, von Kuhn, Brady & Fries, represented the defendant property management company, W&M Properties, which was found liable under the “doctrine of peculiar risk.” Milligan’s estate also sued two excavation contractors he’d hired, Joseph P. Gundeck and Jeffrey Blizzard. Blizzard settled for his $400,000 policy limits before trial. The jury ascribed 29 percent of the negligence to Milligan, 40 percent to W&M, 19 percent to Blizzard and 12 percent to Gundeck. The jury also found W&M liable for recklessness, so its share of damages are not limited to its comparative negligence share, Sutton said: “It’s joint and several liability for them.” During a post-trial briefing period in May and June, W&M opted to settle for an undisclosed amount. Alander’s June 30 ruling had W&M crossed out as lead defendant and Joseph Gundeck hand-lettered in as the sole remaining defendant. Along with Coyne for W&M, Gundeck’s lawyer, April Haskell of Glastonbury, Conn.’s Monstream & May, had urged Alander to reduce the jury awards as being completely out of line with verdicts in Connecticut. “We did a verdict search.” said Coyne. “The highest [consortium award] before was a million dollars. After that, it was about $500,000. So this is seven or eight times the highest verdict in the state of Connecticut for a loss of consortium claim.” Coyne said he didn’t view Alander’s decision as an indication that consortium awards should be a small fraction, such as the one-seventh of the death loss award the judge found reasonable in the Milligan case. “A seven-to-one ratio? I wouldn’t go that far. I think every case has to be decided on its own elements,” said Coyne. Haskell, Gundeck’s lawyer, did not return a call for comment at press time. Robert B. Adelman, Sutton’s senior partner, said the firm is inclined to appeal Alander’s ruling as a matter of principle. “I think the right to a jury trial is the most important right we have as American citizens, and any time a judge substitutes his judgment for that of the jury, it threatens that right,” Adelman said. Alander’s decision to cut down the consortium award, Adelman added, was a “horrible disappointment to Lynette Milligan.” He said that, for many similar plaintiffs, an important part of the verdict is not the money but the vindication “that the jury recognized her loss was equal to his.”

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