Harry Dougherty and Ann Dougherty v. Jean Carrano: A man’s vacation in Westbrook was ruined after a car smashed head-on into his vehicle, breaking his hip and ankle and eventually leading to a heart attack. His lawsuit ultimately went to arbitration, and he and his wife were awarded $2.8 million.
On July 31, 2009, Harry Dougherty, 65, of Meriden, was vacationing with his, wife, Ann, at a cottage her family owns in the Long Island Sound shoreline town. The couple had been at a self-service laundry, and at about lunchtime Doughtry decided to head back to the cottage.
As Dougherty was driving his wife’s 2002 Volvo back on Route 1, a Buick sedan driven by Jean Carrano, 72, crossed the double yellow line and smashed head-on into Dougherty. Both drivers’ airbags deployed; police estimated they each had been traveling between 25 and 30 mph at the time of impact. Both cars were heavily damaged.
Dougherty’s lawyer, Peter A. Berdon, of Berdon, Young & Margolis in New Haven, said Carrano was battling cancer that had spread from her bladder to her bones. She was on her way to get blood tests done when she claims to have lost consciousness, which she said caused her to lose control of the vehicle.
Dougherty’s wife had left the self-service laundry several minutes after her husband. They were going to meet up at the cottage and go to lunch before heading back to Meriden.
Harry Dougherty was taken to Yale-New Haven hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken right ankle, a fractured left hip, internal bleeding in the abdominal region and a bad cut to his left ear.
During his first hospital stay, Dougherty underwent four surgeries, including one to repair his right ankle and another to address the blood in his abdomen. Seven days after the crash, Dougherty underwent a third surgery to repair the hip fracture.
While in the recovery room from that surgery, Dougherty suffered a heart attack, his lawyer said. He was then rushed into a fourth surgery and had a stent placed into his right coronary artery to keep it open. "This heart attack was due to the surgeries and stress caused by the accident," said Berdon.
Dougherty was eventually released from the hospital to an outpatient rehabilitation facility — Montowese Health Care Center in North Haven. In August, he went back to Yale-New Haven for more ankle surgery and then transferred to Gaylord Hospital, a rehabilitation facility in Wallingford. But he dislocated his hip at Gaylord and returned to Yale-New Haven for hip replacement surgery.
Berdon noted that Dougherty previously had a kidney transplant after losing both of his own kidneys. His wife had been the kidney donor. During Dougherty’s third stay at Yale-New Haven, after the hip replacement surgery, he suffered renal failure and ended up on dialysis. He also was treated for blood clots.
Fortunately, Dougherty’s renal condition improved to the point it could be managed by medication. He then resumed his hip replacement rehabilitation. For a time, Dougherty, a Vietnam veteran, had to use a wheelchair. A downstairs room in the home was converted into a bedroom. Friends built a wheelchair ramp so he could get in and out of the home.
By February 2010, doctors decided that Dougherty could go back to work on "light duty." Berdon said Dougherty was a foreman in an aerospace machine shop, which made parts for Sikorsky Aircraft and other companies.
However, Dougherty’s employer would not accommodate his work restrictions and he was let go. In July 2010, Dougherty found another job, but this one was for less pay and it was tougher on him physically, said Berdon. His lost wages, factoring in his period of unemployment and the lower paying job, came to $113,682, according to Berdon.
Dougherty and his wife sued Carrano, and the two sides agreed to arbitrate the case before Kevin C. Shea, of Clendenen & Shea in New Haven.
At the hearing, a lawyer representing the other driver’s insurance carrier argued that Jean Carrano was not liable for the accident because a sudden medical emergency had caused her to lose consciousness. James E. Coyne, of Coyne, von Kuhn, Brady & Fries in Stratford, said that Carrano suffered a syncope episode, which causes a loss of blood in the brain. Coyne, who did not return calls seeking comment for this article, said this was the first time Carrano had such an episode.
Berdon countered that Carrano had been prescribed large doses of Oxycontin to deal with her painful cancer and was either driving while under the influence of the powerful drug or was simply inattentive.
At the hearing, both Harry Dougherty and his wife testified. His doctors submitted videotaped testimony. For the defense, Carrano’s doctor testified.
Berdon asked the arbitrator for $2.4 million for Harry Dougherty and $800,000 for his wife’s loss of consortium claim. He noted that Harry Dougherty’s medical bills exceeded $712,000.
Berdon got almost all of what he wanted. Shea awarded $2.3 million to Harry Dougherty and $500,000 to his wife. Shea ruled that the defense failed to prove that the syncope episode was the reason for the accident.
Berdon said his clients thought it was a "very fair award" for all they have endured. During the time that Harry Dougherty was being treated for his injuries, Ann Dougherty, who works as a receptionist at a school, would get out of work around 3 p.m. and head right to the hospital, where she stayed until nighttime. She would return home, go to bed and repeat the routine the next day.
In total, Berdon said Harry Dougherty spent the better part of three full months in the hospital after the crash. "It really did take a traumatic toll on their lives," the attorney said.
Harry Dougherty has since retired and his wife is close to retirement, Berdon noted.•