Christian Fongemie's Ford E350 van after it was struck by another vehicle Christian Fongemie’s Ford E350 van after it was struck by another vehicle. Courtesy photo.

A jury has awarded $185,000 to a carpenter who injured his spine in a collision with an underinsured driver in 2016.

The six-person jury rendered its decision March 14, after Safeco Insurance Co. offered to settle the case for $4,500.

According to the lawsuit, filed in October 2016, Ashford resident Christian Fongemie, 46, was driving on Route 32 in Willington in May 2016 when he was hit approaching the intersection of Schofield Road. The lawsuit states the other driver involved, Hailee Noto, ran a stop sign in her 1999 Saab, striking the front passenger side of Fongemie’s Ford E350 van.

Fongemie received $20,000 from Geico, the insurance carrier for Noto, who was reportedly underinsured at the time of the accident. Fongemie and his attorney, Lawyer A. Twillie II, an associate with The Haymond Law Firm, then sought to recoup damages from Fongemie’s carrier, Safeco Insurance Co. of Illinois. Efforts to reach a settlement were unsuccessful, Twillie said Thursday.

“Originally, we demanded $35,000 and they came back with an offer of only $1,050. They did not budge from that original March 2016 offer until before trial, when they offered $4,500. We declined that too.” While Twillie said he had been willing to settle the case for $35,000, at trial he sought $308,000. The jury awarded his client $12,094 for economic damages in the form of medical bills, $33,600 for post-noneconomic damages and $139,305 for future noneconomic damages.

On March 19, Safeco Insurance made a motion with Judge Matthew D. Gordon to reduce the award to $35,000. Twillie filed objections Thursday to Safeco’s motion. The motions will be heard by the judge April 2.

The jury heard four hours of evidence and testimony from Fongemie before returning its verdict, deliberating for 4 1/2 hours, according to Twillie.

“I believe the jury came back with an award of $185,000 because of how credible the witness was and his description of his day-to-day activities since the accident.” Twillie said Thursday. “He is a fourth-generation carpenter and the pain and numbness in his arms, hands and neck really slowed him down at work, and that continues to this day. He is less productive on the job.”

In addition to Fongemie’s testimony, evidence submitted by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Alleyne of Vernon showed Fongemie received a 6-percent permanency rating for his neck injury.

Twillie said Fongemie owns his own carpentry business and that injuries to his cervical spine have required numerous medical appointments since the accident and have led to several missed weeks of work.

Safeco was represented by Paige Duprey of Meehan, Roberts, Turret & Rosenbaum in Wallingford. Duprey did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.