Richard J. Clow Jr. v. Travelers Home & amp;Marine Insurance Co.: An Enfield paramedic and firefighter involved in an on-duty accident was awarded $1.1 million by a Hartford jury earlier this month, though he will collect far less than that for a variety of reasons.
Richard J. Clow Jr., 40, was working as a paramedic supervisor in Enfield on Oct. 26, 2009 just after noon when an emergency call came in about an elderly woman who had fallen and hurt her hip.
According to Clow’s trial lawyer, Joseph McManus, of the McManus Law Offices in Grafton, Mass., Clow left the station with the siren and lights on in his paramedic vehicle, which was a Ford Expedition, a large sport utility vehicle.
The station was at the corner of Route 5 and South Road in Enfield. McManus said Clow proceeded east down South Road, a route he’s taken hundreds of times. Further down the road where it intersects with Phoenix Avenue is what McManus called “a blind intersection.” Exactly what happened there is in dispute.
McManus said Clow had a red light at this intersection. But Clow, who maintains that he had his siren and emergency lights on, stated that he stopped and then proceeded into the intersection after thinking all was clear. McManus said he looked towards the left first, and saw no one coming. The paramedic then looked to the right and noticed a driver talking on a cell phone; he claims to have stared at the woman until he was certain she was yielding the right of way.
Clow then moved out into the intersection and was immediately struck by a southbound pickup truck with a trailer attached, coming from the left. The driver, Michael Fortier, of Enfield, “claimed he never saw any lights and never heard any sirens,” said McManus.
Clow was taken by an ambulance to Hartford Hospital, said McManus. Clow, who lived in Somers at that time, had a shoulder injury and received follow-up treatment at Johnson Memorial Hospital. An initial MRI exam revealed no structural damage but a subsequent MRI with a contrast dye showed a tear.
Clow’s injury eventually required two separate surgical procedures. Following surgery to repair the tear, he received physical therapy, but said it did not help. Doctors then recommended another surgery on the AC joint, which is between the shoulder blade and collarbone.
Clow’s medical bills were between $50,000 and $60,000, but were paid for by workers’ compensation.
McManus said that Fortier, who had a felony conviction on his record for not abiding by an order of protection, was an uninsured driver. As such, Clow filed an uninsured motorist claim against his own insurance company — Travelers — in order to collect any damages from the accident.
Travelers was represented by Colin Seguin, of the Law Offices of Charles G. Walker, in Hartford. Seguin did not return calls seeking comment for this article.
McManus said that although Travelers did not question the extent of McManus’ injuries, the insurer did dispute liability. Seguin argued that Clow was at fault for going through a red light at a blind intersection, said McManus.
McManus said the defense also suggested that the paramedic did not have his siren on since Fortier did not hear it. But an independent witness told police that Clow did have his siren and lights on. The police report also indicated that the siren and lights were on at the time of the crash.
Clow hired attorney Scott Day, of Dunn & Phillips from the Springfield, Mass. area who filed the suit against Travelers. McManus, a trial lawyer, was brought in when it became apparent the lawsuit would not be settled outside court. McManus and Day are both licensed to practice in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The case went to trial the first week of October before Hartford Superior Court Judge Jane Scholl. In the courtroom, McManus said loud sirens could be heard coming from outside in Hartford. He asked the jury, “How could [Fortier] not hear that?”
An accident reconstruction specialist testifying for the plaintiff said that Fortier was traveling 46.7 mph in a 40 mph zone at the point of impact. Because Clow had slowed prior to going into the intersection, the expert could not determine his speed.
McManus said he also was allowed to attack Fortier’s credibility with regard to his version of events because of his felony conviction, though the judge would not allow the attorney to reveal what the specific felony charge was.
Trial testimony lasted two days and much of the third day was spent in jury deliberations. The jury returned a verdict for $1,182,100 — $1,052,100 for lost earning capacity and $130,000 in non-economic damages. But jurors also found Clow to be 20 percent at fault, which McManus said lowers the verdict to about $945,000.
In reality, McManus said, his client would come away with much less. The uninsured motorist policy limit was for $250,000 and workers’ compensation benefits already paid to Clow will be deducted from that amount. As such, Clow would end up with about $130,000.
Prior to the accident, Clow worked full time as both a firefighter and paramedic. However, his shoulder injury prevented him from retruning to work as a firefighter and so he took an early disability retirement from that job. Also after the crash, Clow lost his job as an Enfireld paramedic. He now lives in Florida where he found another job as a paramedic.
“One of the tough things for him,” said attorney McManus, “is he has a couple older boys from his first marriage that live up in Connecticut so now he rarely gets to see them.”•