John Coccomo, III v. Robert Tyndall: A man who was rear-ended on the Merritt Parkway has settled his lawsuit for $1.67 million after suffering ankle and back injuries that required several surgeries.

John Coccomo, III, 42, was driving along the parkway in Fairfield on Nov. 27, 2009 at 12:29 p.m. According to Coccomo’s lawyer, Paul Iannaccone, of RisCassi & Davis in Hartford, Coccomo was driving his Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle at the pace of traffic.

“Traffic was flowing normally for a weekend at early afternoon,” said Iannaccone. “There was nothing ahead of John to indicate a need to slow down.”

Suddenly, Coccomo was rear-ended by an Infinity G35X driven by Robert Tyndall. Iannaccone said Tyndall took his eyes off of the roadway to change the radio station and slammed into the back of Coccomo’s vehicle.

The lawyer said Tyndall claims to have been driving at speeds of 45 to 55 mph. The speed limit on the parkway is 55 mph and Tyndall hit a moving vehicle in front of him so Iannaccone is skeptical of the defendant’s speed estimate.

“I don’t know if the defendant’s admission of 45 to 55 [mph] would’ve held up in cross-examination,” said Iannaccone.

Regardless, Iannaccone said the defendant admitted liability when acknowledging that he looked away from the road to change the radio station.

Tyndall’s Infinity took the worst of the collision, sustaining $7,000 in damage. Coccomo’s Ford Explorer was equipped with a trailer hitch, so there was very little visible damage to the SUV. However, Coccomo suffered a low back injury and exacerbated a pre-existing right ankle injury.

Iannaccone explained that Coccomo played hockey in his youth and had bone chips removed from his ankle about 10 years prior to the collision. At the time of the accident, Iannaccone said his client was experiencing arthritis in the same right ankle. After the crash, Coccomo’s pain worsened and he had two additional surgeries, the second one being a partial fusion of the ankle joint.

Iannaccone said none of the additional procedures on Coccomo’s ankle would have been necessary if not for the accident.

Ultimately, Dr. Lawrence Berson, of Middlesex Orthopedic Surgeons, assessed Coccomo with an 18 percent permanent partial disability rating to his right foot. As for Coccomo’s low back, the accident caused a disc herniation that also required surgery.

“He ended up with a fusion surgery from the fourth lumbar vertebrae down to the first level of the sacrum,” said Iannaccone. “He had screws and plates put in as well.”

Unfortunately for his client, Iannaccone said the first back surgery failed. And so doctors performed a similar fusion surgery a second time. “They had to reverse it and repeat it,” said Iannaccone. “It’s almost like they put the wrong size screw in a board… The second time they did it, they put in a bone stimulator as well, to maybe encourage more bone growth on the fusion.”

For the lumbar spine injury, Dr. Jeffrey Bash, also of Middlesex Orthopedic Surgeons, gave him a 32 percent permanent partial disability rating.

Iannaccone said prior to the accident, his client had worked the occasional construction job but had no regular employment. So Coccomo was unable to make a lost wage claim. Because Coccomo did not have health insurance, his medical bills were extremely high, at $500,000. “His [medical] providers billed him for private pay rates that seemed to radically exceed anything that health insurance companies would allow,” said Iannaccone.

The defendant, Tyndall, was represented by Keith McCabe at Regnier, Taylor Curran & Eddy in Hartford. McCabe did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Iannaccone said the defense contested causation and the extent of Coccomo’s injuries. Specifically, McCabe did not believe Coccomo’s ankle injury had anything to do with the car crash. “The ankle presented more causation problems than the back,” said Iannaccone.

Additionally, Iannaccone said his client’s visit to the emergency room the night of the accident also posed causation problems because his client did not complain about any ankle pain.

“I really had to look at the emergency room notes with a magnifying glass to find one injury where a nurse wrote ‘shoulder-back,” said Iannaccone. “It was the one little entry that I hung my hat on, to say he complained about his back at the ER. He mostly went to the ER because he had chest pain and had trouble breathing. It’s not until [nearly a week after the accident] that he makes his first ankle complaint. So that didn’t help matters much.”

The negligence lawsuit against Tyndall was scheduled to go to trial June 18, but the two sides agreed to mediation in May with attorney Thomas Barrett of Litigation Alternatives Inc. in West Hartford. The case was not resolved during the mediation, but following a trial management conference June 4 the two sides kept dialogue open and were able to reach an agreement.

The settlement was for $1,670,000.

“I was able to get some of the medical providers to compromise their bills,” said Iannaccone. “The case had a lot of risks for both sides. [The defendant's insurer] saved a decent amount of money off the policy and obviously [Coccomo] avoided the risk of his many causation issues.”

Iannaccone praised defense counsel McCabe for his efforts in reaching the settlement.

“Settlements are interesting,” said Iannaccone. “[Coccomo's] satisfied. I don’t think I got him all the way to happy. He knows that a person with health insurance would have a bigger net recovery, so that sort of weighed on him.”