Amy Thornton v. Pitney Bowes Inc. & Indemnity Insurance Company of North America: A woman who suffered a fractured skull in an accident on her way to the airport for a business trip has recovered $1.2 million in a workers’ compensation settlement with her employer.

Amy Thornton, 45, of Fairfield, was heading south on the Merritt Parkway in Norwalk at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2008, when she lost control of her vehicle on the icy road and hit a guardrail. According to Thornton’s lawyer, Lawrence “Larry” Sgrignari of Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari in Hamden, Thornton got out of her car and called for roadside assistance.

That’s when another driver, William Dohme Jr. of Westport, slid on the same patch of ice, lost control of his vehicle and smashed into Thornton. Thornton was first taken to Norwalk Hospital and later transferred to Bridgeport Hospital due to the severity of her injuries, according to Sgrignari.

Thornton was ultimately diagnosed with a fractured skull that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, a badly broken pelvis, a punctured lung, broken vertebrae in her lower back and other internal injuries. Sgrignari said the pelvic injury was significant and required extensive surgery.

“She’s done relatively well with the orthopedic injuries,” he said. “The real significant problem has remained the cognitive impairments as a result of the traumatic brain injury.”

Sgrignari explained that Thornton has a difficult time focusing and has trouble controlling her emotions. Further, he said she does not have the physical stamina to work a full day.

At the time of the accident, Thornton was director of vendor services for Pitney Bowes in Norwalk. Because she was on her way to catch a flight for business, her injuries resulted in a workers’ compensation claim.

Thornton received the maximum weekly temporary total disability benefits of $1,077. Then, in January 2010, her treating physicians said she was fit to resume light-duty employment.

So Thornton began to conduct a job search while continuing to receive temporary partial disability benefits. Ultimately, her job search efforts were not successful and she later applied for and was awarded Social Security disability benefits.

Following her failed attempts at finding employment, her doctors ultimately decided she was permanently disabled.

“She found that the difficulty in being able to remain focused really impacted the ability to hold down anything that was going to require any structured type of environment for work,” said Sgrignari. “It took a long time for her to accept the fact that the likelihood of ever resuming employment was not good. She eventually came to terms with it.”

Sgrignari said Thornton was able to settle a claim against Dohme’s auto insurance carrier “very quickly” for the $100,000 policy limit. The tricky part was getting enough other compensation for her to live on, as she was no longer able to work. Thornton would also require future medical treatment, Sgrignari said.

“In Amy’s situation, because the medical picture is really complicated, we did not want to entertain any settlement of the claim if it meant closing out the medical component of the case,” Sgrignari said.

Sgrignari said the lawyer representing Pitney Bowes, Michael Buonopane of McGann, Bartlett & Brown in East Hartford, was agreeable to settling the portion of the case pertaining to Thornton’s lost income while leaving discussion of her future medical costs until a later date. That agreement, said Sgrignari, paved the way for fruitful settlement discussions.

Sgrignari said the two sides went to mediation before retired state workers’ compensation commissioner Toby Doyle. Though the exact dollar figures weren’t worked out at the mediation, the two sides were able to reach the outlines of an agreement and avoid a scheduled hearing at the workers’ compensation office in Bridgeport.

“Procedurally, it’s a formal hearing before the workers’ compensation commissioner. It’s a little bit less formal than a trial but similar in nature to what would be a court-side trial in front of a judge,” said Sgrignari. “The rules of evidence are a little bit relaxed but the standard of proof would be very similar to what we would need to prove in court.”

Sgrignari had a report from Thornton’s doctor speaking to her disability, as well as a report by a vocational expert. The plaintiff’s lawyer said those expert opinions were instrumental in helping get a settlement.

A few weeks after the mediation, Sgrignari said he and Buonopane agreed to settle the future income-related claim against Pitney Bowes for $1.2 million. In addition, Sgrignari explained, the agreement allowed for Thornton to come back at a future date and request money for medical treatment.

The $1.2 million “is strictly based on the loss of income for the future,” said Sgrignari. “Normally when [employers] resolve the [workers' compensation] claims they like to close them out completely. It is somewhat unusual to get them to agree to leave the medical components open, in this case, indefinitely.”

Sgrignari also acknowledged that it is rare to settle a workers’ compensation claim for more than $1 million.

“In the workers’ compensation arena there is no compensation for pain and suffering, which is something that normally adds significant damage elements to a normal personal injury claim,” said Sgrignari.

Buonopane, the defense lawyer representing Pitney Bowes, declined to comment for this article.

Sgrignari said Buonopane handled the claim professionally and demonstrated a “genuine compassion” toward Thornton “while ably representing the legal interests of his clients.” •