Deborah Arbucci, et al. v. Ronald Haberern, et al.: A mother and daughter who were severely injured after the vehicle they were riding in was struck head-on by a pickup truck were awarded more than $8.1 million by a Hartford jury recently.
Deborah Arbucci, 48, and her daughter Deanna, 23, loved riding horses and lived on a small farm in Marlborough, according to their lawyers. On Feb. 15, 2010, they had spent time with a horse that was being trained for riding and then decided to go get lunch.
Deanna Arbucci was driving her pickup on Route 85 in Hebron en route to Manchester when a pickup owned by Wolverine Fire Protection Co. and operated by Wolverine employee Ronald Haberern came the opposite direction. The second pickup suddenly crossed the center line, swerved into Deanna’s lane and collided head-on with the Arbuccis’ vehicle.
"It was literally as straight a head-on [collision] as you could be — bumper to bumper, both full sized pickup trucks," said Deborah’s lawyer, Chris Flood, of the Flood Law Firm in Middletown. "It was a hell of an impact."
Though both mother and daughter were hurt, the mother got the worst of it. Deborah Arbucci suffered life-threatening injuries, including fractures to the vertebrae in her neck and back, multiple fractures to her right arm and numerous internal injuries.
Specifically, Flood said, the neck fracture is what’s known as a hangman’s fracture. The injury required surgery and the woman still requires narcotic pain medications on a daily basis. "The neck pain is pretty serious and pretty regular," said Flood. "It’s sort of a question of how severe it gets at any time, but it’s always there with her."
Her right forearm was fractured in numerous places and a surgeon placed plates and screws in the arm, said Flood.
Further, Deborah Arbucci needed surgery to remove portions of her small intestine. Flood said that injury, too, impacts her day-to-day life, causing diarrhea, among other symptoms.
All together, Deborah spent about a month in the hospital, followed by additional time in a special care facility in New Britain and then in a convalescent home. When she first returned to her own home, Deborah needed supervised care there as well, Flood said. In total, that recovery time took about three months.
Deanna Arbucci, meanwhile, suffered mainly soft tissue injuries to her neck, right shoulder, arm, back and left knee. She was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affects her right arm.
Perhaps the most serious injury was the emotional trauma, explained Deanna’s lawyer, Thomas P. Cella, of the Hartford law firm of Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald. The daughter suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, which evolved into a severe depression, stemming from her mother’s injuries. "[Deborah Arbucci's] physical injuries were enormous and it really affected my client, Deanna, to a huge extent," said Cella. "She felt very guilty because one, she was driving a truck and two, she was the one who suggested they go out to lunch. Had she never done that, her mother would’ve been fine."
The mother and daughter had been very close prior to the accident. Afterward, their relationship became strained, explained Flood. "The daughter felt a lot of guilt for the accident and it became a wedge between the two of them," said Flood. "The mother can’t really do very much. It was hard for them to spend time together without thinking back and worrying about the accident, that sort of thing."
The two lawyers filed a lawsuit against Haberern and his employer for their clients’ injuries. Haberern himself was also badly injured, suffering a head injury and was in a coma for a time. Haberern never cooperated with the police investigation into the crash. Cella said it remains a "mystery" why the man’s pickup crossed the double yellow line.
The two sides went to mediation in December but an agreement was never close, said Flood. Haberern was represented by Stephen Fogerty, of Halloran & Sage in Westport.
The case proceeded to trial in Hartford Superior Court before Judge Carl Schuman in late May. The trial took about one week, with witnesses including the two plaintiffs, Deborah Arbucci’s son, a friend of Deanna’s, and Deanna’s psychologist.
Flood said the defense did not challenge liability and that the trial was strictly a hearing on damages.
"[Defense attorney Fogerty] acknowledged Debbie was badly injured. They were just trying to keep the number down," said Flood. "With Deanna, they argued she was injured but seemed to imply she needs to move on with her life and be more active in her treatment."
Cella said the mother and daughter made "unbelievably good" witnesses. They were "genuine, credible, obviously suffering, and I think that came through loud and clear," said Cella. "Their case was made through their testimony….and the jury compensated them appropriately."
After deliberating for about a day, the jury awarded Deborah Arbucci $6,050,000 and Deanna Arbucci $2.1 million.
"The jury [members were] all in their late 50s, early 60s," Flood said. "I just think they really identified with Debbie and wanted to help Deanna…move on with her life, get to school and live her own life as opposed to this terrible guilt she felt for her mother."
Fogerty said the plaintiffs’ lawyers asked the jury for $21 million — $14 million for the mother and $7 million for the daughter.
"The jury came back for $8 million," said Fogerty. "We argued for significantly less than that… We thought the verdict was excessive."
As such, Fogerty said he will file post-trial motions challenging the jury’s award.
Lawyers for both sides went out of their way to praise the work of the opposing counsel.•