Tessa Scandariato Eichelberger v. Edward Borrelli: A Norwich woman who injured her neck in a car accident was recently awarded $316,000 by a jury, though the amount was reduced by 20 percent because she was found to be partially at fault.

Tessa Eichelberger, 28, was driving west on West Main Street in Norwich at 10:24 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2006, according to her lawyer, Stephen M. Reck, of North Stonington.

Another vehicle, driven by Edward Borrelli, 68, of North Haven, was heading in the opposite direction on West Main Street and attempted to make a left turn into a gas station just past an intersection. Eichelberger’s light remained green and, as she proceeded through the intersection, Borrelli turned left and the two cars collided.

Eichelberger’s airbags deployed and her windshield shattered. She declined an ambulance trip to the hospital and instead took herself to Backus Hospital in Norwich the next day after experiencing neck and back pain, her attorney said.

Borrelli, meanwhile, was ticketed at the scene by police for failing to yield the right of way.

At the time, Eichelberger was in a new job as a pastry chef at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook. She had just completed culinary school.

Reck said that after her lone visit to the hospital, his client did not treat her injuries for several months. She then sought out help for her neck pain with a chiropractor and eventually with a Norwich neurologist, Anthony Alessi. The neurologist sent her to physical therapy, which provided some neck pain relief.

Alessi diagnosed Eichelberger with a soft tissue neck injury which caused chronic pain and occipital headaches — a type of headache caused by the occipital nerve, which passes through the neck muscles and back of the head. Alessi gave Eichelberger a 5 percent permanent partial disability rating of the brain, not for a cognitive brain injury but due to the neck injury causing headaches, Reck explained.

Eichelberger filed a lawsuit against Borrelli. According to Reck, Borrelli’s insurance company, Casco, of Maine, took a hard-line stance on the claim. Casco was reprsented by Lawrence Adler, of the Adler Law Group in East Hartford.

First, Reck said, the defense argued that Eichelberger’s lights were off as she proceeded through the intersection.

“But [Borrelli] had never said that to the police officer at the scene,” Reck countered. “And he had never said that to his own insurance company when they took a statement from him shortly after the accident.”

Reck said it wasn’t until the lawsuit was filed, and Borelli was deposed, that he claimed that Eichelberger’s lights weren’t on.

“The defense also really went after my client’s character, basically saying she was exaggerating her symptoms and that she didn’t have any problems at work with her injuries,” said Reck.

Reck said it was a struggle for Eichelberger to hold on to her $39,000-a year job at the Water’s Edge because of her neck pain. He said she sometimes had to carry 50 pound bags of flour and typically needed to lie down as soon as she was done working.

Reck said she continued working for the first eight months after the crash but then missed some time after that. Ultimately, she had to leave the Water’s Edge job because of the physical demands, Reck said. She now works as a chef at the Trumbull Kitchen in Hartford.

“She eventually stopped working at the Water’s Edge because it was too much for her,” said Reck. “She took a month off to try to get better and then took another job that was not as stressful on her neck and back. Then after Dr. Alessi had her do physical therapy, she felt she was strong enough to go back to being a chef.”

The trial took place over four days in New London before Superior Court Judge Robert Martin. Reck presented a video deposition of Dr. Alessi. Three members of the plaintiff’s family testified, as well as the responding police officer to the crash. Also, a pair of witnesses to the crash testified. They said Eichelberger had her lights on.

Reck said Eichelberger also testified and was cross-examined by Adler for 2 1/2 hours, mostly in regards to her character. Adler did not return calls for this article.

Reck said Eichelberger’s husband, mother and father all testified. Her husband, Joshua, is in the National Guard and completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is also an engineer for Pratt & Whitney. Her father is Norwich’s fire chief and her mother is a nurse. “I basically told the jury, ‘If you were to believe the defendant ,you’d have to say all three of her family members were basically lying,’” said Reck.

After spending an afternoon deliberating, the jury returned a verdict earlier this month in the plaintiff’s favor for $316,465. However, they claimed Eichelberger was 20 percent at fault, which reduced the total award to $253,172.

“I tell you, that was a surprise,” said Reck regarding the comparative negligence finding. “I didn’t think she had any fault. I don’t think they found her headlights were off or then I think we would’ve lost. Maybe they thought she went too fast going through an intersection at night.”

Adler has already filed a motion to set aside the verdict on the grounds that the neurologists’s testimony was improper and prejudicial since Eichelberger does not have an actual brain injury.

Reck is also not done with the case. He intends to file a bad faith claim against Borrelli’s insurance company.

“I sent them letters prior to trial putting them on notice that they were committing bad faith,” said Reck. “They could have settled within the policy limits and refused to do so and I had a neurologist saying she’d have chronic pain and suffering for the rest of her life and she’s only 28 years old.”•