Jose Morales v. Allstate Insurance Co. A Hartford man who injured his shoulder after a car ran a stop sign and crashed into his vehicle was recently awarded more than $122,000 following a jury trial.
Jose Morales, 52, was driving along Cowles Street in Hartford. As he approached a four-way intersection, a vehicle driven along George Street by Melany Pacheco, who then lived in Hartford, drove through a stop sign and smashed into the front right side of Morales’ vehicle.
Morales’ lawyer, Gregory O’Brien, of Moore, O’Brien, Yelenak & Foti in Cheshire, said the impact sent Morales’ left arm through the steering wheel while the rest of his body was jolted hard to the left. The wrenching of Morales’ arm caused a left shoulder injury.
O’Brien said Morales immediately told police officers at the scene that his shoulder hurt. Morales also had a preexisting lower back problem that was exacerbated by the accident. Later that night, Morales went to the hospital because his shoulder pain kept getting worse. It took several months before doctors finally diagnosed Morales with a partially torn left rotator cuff.
Morales worked as a janitor and laundry attendant at Hartford Hospital and missed just two days of work after the accident. He was rated by one orthopedic doctor with a 5 percent permanent partial disability from the injury, while another doctor gave him a 5 to 7 percent disability rating. Both doctors raised the possibility of surgery, but Morales declined because he could not afford to be out of work for the two to three months it would have taken to recuperate.
O’Brien said Morales was also concerned that if he missed that much work, his job wouldn’t be waiting for him when he was ready to come back.
The attorney said Morales has gone to many physical therapy appointments and received cortisone injections in the elbow and shoulder, which helped ease the pain for a month or two. O’Brien said the only long-term solution is surgery. Morales has amassed medical bills of $13,000.
Morales sued Pacheco, the negligent driver in the collision, and the case settled with her insurer, State Farm, for the $50,000 policy limit. Morales then sued his own insurer, Allstate, for additional underinsured motorist benefits. That policy was also worth $50,000.
Allstate, which was represented by Raymond Epps, of the Law Office of Mark Gilcreast, contested the extent of Morales’ injuries. Epps did not return calls for comment.
The plaintiff would have accepted $25,000 from Allstate to resolve the case, but the insurer never moved off its initial $5,000 offer, O’Brien said.
O’Brien said Allstate noted that Morales had prior back problems, and that he had been involved in another mishap after the crash in Hartford. O’Brien explained that Morales fell down a flight of stairs at work and tore a tendon in his knee. That injury kept Morales out of work for three months.
The defense argued that the knee injury “was much more serious, and that’s the real injury affecting his quality of life and not the injury sustained in the car accident,” said O’Brien. “The defense also pointed out the plaintiff’s ability to continue in his work after the [automobile] accident while missing only two days, as well as the plaintiff’s refusal to undergo shoulder surgery, which could have made him better.”
The case proceeded to trial as a hearing on damages before Hartford Superior Court Judge Jane Scholl. Evidence presentation lasted one day, with Morales and his wife as the only witnesses. Pacheco, the driver of the other vehicle in the accident, could not be located by lawyers.
At trial, O’Brien said Morales’ wife was his star witness.
“I think he had a bit of a language problem. I think the jury had some difficulty understanding him,” said O’Brien. “From my perspective, what really saved the case was his wife. She was just better at explaining how this accident affected his life. You could really see the jury was paying attention to her and she was really quite credible.”
Morales’ wife explained how her husband’s shoulder injury affects his ability to lift or play with his grandchildren or lift anything upward above his chest. She also said he has had sleeping difficulties due to the shoulder injury and that his low back pain is double what it was prior to the crash and that he takes twice as much pain medication.
The wife explained that she and her husband used to go for walks, but ever since the accident he’s in pain after walking just 50 to 100 feet.
O’Brien said the defense lawyer cross-examined the wife about Morales’ knee injury but that she handled it well.
The jury deliberated for about two hours and then awarded Morales $122,274. Of that amount, $109,387 was for noneconomic damages.
O’Brien explained that the original $50,000 insurance settlement will get deducted from the verdict amount, as will the medical bills that were previously paid for. All told, Morales will collect about $50,000, plus $6,000 or $7,000 in interest stemming from an offer of compromise filed when the lawsuit was initially brought.
O’Brien said he did not anticipate an appeal being filed by Allstate’s counsel.•