Richard Plawecki v. Richard Franklin, et al.: A 59-year-old man whose shoulder was injured after his vehicle was rear-ended was awarded more than $800,000 by a jury in New Britain.

Richard Plawecki, of the Terryville section of Plymouth, was driving his pickup on Farmington Avenue in Bristol at 3:45 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2009. Suddenly, Plawecki claims, the driver of a large box truck, Richard Franklin, of Bloomfield, rear-ended his truck in traffic.

Franklin was employed by Colt Express LLC, a small trucking company that delivers items such as mattresses and appliances to homes.

According to Plawecki’s lawyer, Brian M. Flood, of Moore, O’Brien, Jacques & Yelenak in Cheshire, Franklin gave differing accounts of what happened as he tried to escape liability. In general, Franklin claimed the accident occurred because Plawecki was driving erratically.

In one version of the story, Franklin said Plawecki signaled his intention to enter a left turn-only lane, did so, but then suddenly and without signaling moved into the straight-ahead lane directly in front of the box truck.

In another version, Franklin complained that Plawecki went from the far right lane, into the center lane, over to the left turn lane, and then back to the center lane, where the crash occurred. Attorney Flood said the police officer who responded to the crash scene said that scenario wasn’t plausible because there was accident debris in the road before Farmington Avenue widened from two to three lanes.

Flood said the “cockamamie” stories that both Franklin and his front seat passenger told after the crash “were just unbelievable.”

“[Franklin] really wasn’t credible,” said Flood.

The attorney for Franklin, John Hanks, of Aldrich & Hanks in Glastonbury, who defend lawsuits for Progressive Insurance, could not be reached for comment.

At the accident scene and at the hospital the following day, Plawecki complained of neck pain. One week later, he began experiencing shoulder pains. Upon examination, a doctor diagnosed him with a rotator cuff tear. The plaintiff had open rotator cuff surgery followed by physical therapy.

Flood said the surgery did not help; instead the plaintiff had scarring and a “frozen shoulder.” The official medical name for the condition is adhesive capsulitis, in which the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint becomes swollen and stiff, restricting movement and causing pain.

“Movement of his right arm, his master arm, was limited,” said Flood. “He can lift it up 90 degrees but had trouble going higher than that. A second surgery made it a little bit better but not much.”

Flood said the second procedure was an arthroscopic surgery that removed some of the scarring to increase his range of motion in the shoulder. Plawecki then went through another round of physical therapy.

Fortunately, Plawecki, who inspects small parts for an aerospace parts manufacturing company, was able to work through his shoulder problems.

Dueling Doctors

In addition to liability, Flood said the defense contested the source of Plawecki’s shoulder pain. A medical evaluation by a doctor assigned by Progressive said the rotator cuff tear may have pre-dated the accident. Further, the doctor concluded, Plawecki had degenerative arthritis to the AC joint of his shoulder.

Plawecki’s doctor agreed that he suffered from AC joint degeneration but opined that the rotator cuff tear was caused as a direct result from the motor vehicle accident. The doctor gave Plawecki’s shoulder a 27 percent permanent impairment rating. The doctor conducting the evaluation for Progressive agreed to that number, but attributed 17 percent of it to pre-existing injuries and 10 percent to post-accident surgeries.

Flood said the case went to mediation before Wethersfield attorney Rick Mahoney, but the two sides were unable to come close to reaching an agreement. Flood said Mahoney opined that the case was worth around $500,000.

“But [Progressive officials] were stuck in this $160,000, maybe $200,000, range so it didn’t go any further with settlement negotiations than that,” said Flood.

In May 2010, prior to the mediation, the plaintiffs had filed an offer of compromise for $750,000.

The case went to trial in February before Judge Joseph Shortall in New Britain Superior Court. Following a three-day trial, the jury found in favor for Plawecki.

The jury awarded $86,645 for medical bills and an additional $725,000 for non-economic damages, bringing the total to $811,645. Added to that was interest dating from when the offer of compromise was made. Flood said Progressive recently sent a check for $900,000 even.

“It’s really a devastating injury for this guy and limited the movement of his arm,” said Flood. “He came across as a really sympathetic man” to the jury.

Flood said Plawecki was single and taking care of his ill, disabled father during the time after the accident. “Essentially, all he was doing in his life at the time was working and taking care of his dad and had difficulty taking care of his father with the use of just one arm. The jury felt this had a significant impact on him,” said Flood.

Flood said Plawecki, who hopes to retire in three years, has always been an avid fisherman and bowler. “He’ll have a tough time enjoying any of those activities when he retires,” Flood said.