Donna Antczak v. Fred Lathrop, et al.: A woman who was severely injured in a crash in Waterford after a town van allegedly ran a stop sign has recovered $2.5 million in a settlement.
Donna Antczak, 62, of Waterford, was on her way to BJ's Wholesale Club at about 10:55 a.m. on November 16, 2010. According to her lawyer, Joseph Barnes, of The Reardon Law Firm in New London, as Antczak approached the intersection of Waterford Parkway North and Cross Road, she was broadsided on the left side of her vehicle by a van owned by the Town of Waterford and driven by Fred Lathrop.
Barnes said that Lathrop was on his way to a town meeting at Waterford Town Hall that was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Lathrop, a surveyor for the town, was driving a large blue van used to carry surveying equipment, Barnes explained.
The attorney said that a witness claims that Lathrop "blew a red light" before smashing into the left side of Antczak's vehicle.
Barnes had Lathrop's work and personal cell phone records examined, but they did not indicate he was on the phone. Lathrop also used a CB radio in his van, but those records also did not indicate any communications around the time of the crash.
"I don't know what he was doing in the van," said Barnes. "He just wasn't paying attention is what it comes down to. There were skid marks at the scene which indicate to me he did see her vehicle at the last minute but not in enough time to stop."
Emergency personnel had to use the Jaws of Life to extricate Antczak from her vehicle. She was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital with life-threatening injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. "I spoke to paramedics that were at the scene and they were certainly fearful she would not survive," said Barnes.
Because of brain swelling, doctors kept Antczak in a medically induced coma for a time after the crash. In total, Antczak spent 25 days in the hospital and had two surgeries before being transferred to Gaylord Rehabilitation Center in Wallingford, where she underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Antczak's injuries included multiple skull fractures, rib fractures, a broken pelvis, a collapsed lung, bleeding in her abdomen and an ocular chain fracture in her ear. Barnes said the injuries were mainly to her left side.
Barnes said Antczak also needed a surgery on vertebrae in her neck to fuse them back together.
"As a result of her skull fractures on her left side, the nerves behind the brain were damaged creating what's called a nerve palsy," explained Barnes. "It's the nerve that keeps the eye focused and straight and because this particular nerve was damaged from the impact, she experienced double vision. Her eye would tilt in."
Barnes said his client went through "intensive" therapy to try to correct the double-vision problem and that she has made a good recovery. He said when looking straight ahead, she no longer has double vision. Now, he said, the problem occurs only when she is focusing to her left or right.
Barnes said the vision problem would make driving difficult for his client, but it's more fear stemming from the accident that has kept her off the road.
The attorney said that Antczak had to be taken care of by her husband and daughter for quite some time after the crash. She relied upon family members to help her with such daily tasks as showering, getting dressed and preparing meals.
Further, Barnes said Antczak has been unable to work ever since the accident. She had been employed at a credit union inside Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Pawcatuck.
"She's still striving to" go back to work, said Barnes. "She won't give up. She won't rule it out. She's a fighter. From a medical standpoint and what the doctors are saying, I'm not so sure that's possible. But you have to commend her spirit."
Barnes said Antczak was given a 20 percent permanent partial disability rating for her traumatic brain injury. Her pelvic injury was assigned a 10 percent permanent partial disability rating.
Antczak sued surveryor Lathrop and the Town of Waterford. The lawsuit was filed in New London Superior Court but after several depositions — including that of Antczak, Lathrop and other Waterford Department of Public Works employees — Barnes said the two sides agreed to try mediation.
The parties had two sessions in Hartford with Judge Antonio Robaina. After the second day, the parties still had not reached an agreement, so Robaina followed-up with phone calls to Barnes and the defense lawyer for Lathrop and the town, Stephen G. Murphy Jr., of Milano & Wanat in Branford.
The phone calls brought the desired results, as the two sides recently agreed to settle the lawsuit for $2.5 million.
Barnes said liability was not really in dispute during the settlement talks. The discussions largely focused on damages and trying to figure out a fair award for Antczak. Barnes noted that her medical bills were around $450,000.
"She's very happy with the settlement," said Barnes. "It took a while to get there but she's very pleased with the result."
Murphy declined comment for this article.•