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Stonington - A Stamford Superior Court jury took just 54 minutes Thursday to decide not to award any damages to a bicyclist who was struck by a car here and paralyzed from the waist down in August of 2003.
The accident left Edward Petner, a successful hedge fund manager from Darien, confined to a wheelchair and unable to work at a job that had once earned him millions of dollars a year.
His attorney, Robert Reardon of New London, told the jury Thursday that Petner's medical bills stand at $1.2 million and estimated his lost earnings at $18 million.
The case had gone on for seven years and included hundreds of court filings and motions. The 18 days of testimony included 45 witnesses such as police officers, emergency medical personnel and various experts. Although the list of defendants was initially a long one, by the time the trial began it had been whittled down to just three - Stacy Moody, the young local woman who was driving the car that struck Petner; her father Frederick, who owned the car; and Electrical Contractors Inc. The Hartford firm had been working on the traffic light at the intersection of Route 1 and Flanders Road 11 days earlier and had left an orange cone there. The jury found in favor of all three defendants.
According to a police report, Petner was riding west on Route 1 on the morning of Aug. 23, 2003, when he came to the intersection and was struck by Moody, who was turning east onto Route 1 from Flanders Road. Petner says when he swerved to avoid the cone and entered the travel lane, he was struck. The impact severed his spine. The police report states that Petner was not traveling in the right portion of the lane and failed to stop at the line for the red light.
"It took a lot of courage for the jury to turn down this man who is so seriously injured," said the Moodys' attorney, Kara Burgarella, who works for the New London firm of Faulkner & Boyce. "But they did it because they followed the law. They did the right thing."
She added there wasn't anyone in the courtroom who did not feel bad for Petner.
"But unfortunately in this circumstance he blew the red light. Stacy Moody didn't do anything wrong," she said.
Burgarella said a Stonington police officer testified that the accident was Petner's fault, while a witness said he failed to stop at the intersection. Reardon, though, said Stonington police never questioned Petner about what happened and when he called three months later, they said the case was closed. Reardon also said an officer told Petner he was being cited as he lay on the ground just after the crash.
Reardon said he would appeal the decision.
"This is not over yet. The evidence was overwhelming that Edward Petner was not at fault," he said.
But Reardon said the jury could not get past the fact that Petner was very successful and wealthy. He was in Stonington because he was staying at his second home in the Weekapaug section of Westerly.
"He told the truth about what happened but the jury chose not to listen," Reardon said.
Petner, who cannot work because of his extensive injuries, is married with four children. Reardon said he is devastated by the verdict.
Reardon said Petner's mother died when he was 3, his father when he 12 and he attended college and graduate school on scholarships because he had no money. Still, he graduated from the prestigious Wharton School and became chief executive officer of a hedge fund.
"He earned everything he had the hard way," said Reardon.