Kelly Reardon
Kelly Reardon (Tom Kutz)

Michael Fournier v. Timothy Mellon: A Plainfield man who went out for a motorcycle ride on an unusually warm December day and then crashed into a backhoe that turned in front of him has collected $1.3 million in a settlement.

Michael Fournier took his Harley-Davidson for a ride with two friends on Dec. 3, 2009, according to his lawyer, Kelly Reardon, of The Reardon Law Firm in New London.

Meanwhile, Timothy Mellon, of Lyme, was operating his backhoe on Route 14A in Plainfield when he made a left turn right in front of the three bikers onto Spaulding Road.

According to Reardon, Fournier and his friends were riding in sort of a triangle formation. As they approached the backhoe, Fournier was furthest to the right and unable to avoid a collision. She said he tried to lay his bike on its side and slide, but he smashed head-on into the backhoe. His friends, closer to the center line, were able to swerve left, escaping a collision.

“It was impossible for [Fournier] to do the same maneuver they had done,” said Reardon.

Fournier was badly injured and was flown via Life Star helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was hospitalized for a neck fracture and a severe head laceration. Reardon said he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury with some memory loss.

Additionally, Reardon said her client required surgery on an injured knee. She said he first underwent a neck fusion surgery at Backus Hospital in Norwich and then arthroscopic knee surgery at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam.

“He was doing better at that point, [but] unfortunately his neck condition deteriorated again, resulting in pain and numbness going down his arms,” said Reardon. “As a result, about three years after the accident happened it was determined that the level around where he had his neck fusion had failed. … He had a second operation on the neck just this past spring. It’s been a roller coaster for him the past few years.”

His medical bills have totaled $175,000.

“He’s doing a lot better now than he was before the second neck surgery,” said Reardon. “It alleviated a lot of his pain and numbness in his arms. Although he has more restricted range of motion, he was doing better in terms of his quality of life. Hopefully, he won’t need additional surgeries.”

At the time of the accident, Fournier, then 49, worked at a Lowe’s Cos. home improvement distribution center, driving equipment that transported pallets of boxes and other items. After the accident, “he could not do his job any longer, particularly because he couldn’t turn his head and neck at all,” said Reardon. After collecting disability for a while, Fournier eventually took a part-time janitorial job at a school, which represented a significant pay cut.

Reardon sued Mellon on Fournier’s behalf for negligence and recklessness. Mellon, who is related to the Mellon family that established Mellon Bank in 1869, was defended by Brian Farrell of the Law Office of Brian Farrell, who is the house counsel for Chubb & Son Insurance Cos. Farrell did not return calls for this article.

Reardon said the defense contested liability. “They claimed my client was speeding and that because he was speeding, he was contributorily negligent and that gave the backhoe operator less of an opportunity to see him coming and respond properly,” she said.

Both sides hired accident reconstruction experts who were ready to testify. The defense expert was prepared to argue that Fournier’s skid marks were more than 100 feet long. Meanwhile, Reardon’s expert, who specializes in motorcycle accident reconstruction, argued that there was no documented evidence of speeding or skid marks in the police investigation.

Reardon said the case was scheduled to go to trial in September 2013, but it was about that time that Fournier’s doctors opined that he needed the second neck surgery. That put the litigation on hold for a while. During his recovery from the second surgery, settlement negotiations resumed. “Given what he’d been through with the second neck surgery, that’s really what resulted in a good resolution of the case,” said Reardon.

The two sides ultimately settled for $1.3 million. Reardon said her client is happy the case is over. “It’s been a long process for him,” said Reardon. “It’s been years since the accident happened. He’s pleased that he can finally get on with his life.”•