The former pastor of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Congregational Church, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when her car was rear- ended by a tractor-trailer in 2008, was awarded $2.5 million in damages following an eight-day trial in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.
The Rev. Kathleen Crockford, 59, of Stoningtion said in a brief phone interview that it has been "a long four years" and that she feels the jury's June 21 verdict was "just, fair and reasonable."
The jury found the truck driver was negligent but not reckless, awarding $1,273,500 in economic damages and $1,250,000 in non-economic damages.
Crockford was returning to Stonington in her Volkswagen Beetle convertible after performing a wedding in Massachusetts on May 29, 2008. She was waiting to turn left onto Elm Street, or Route 1A, from Route 1 when the tractor trailer struck her car behind, forcing it into the car in front of her.
Crockford, who was unconscious and unresponsive at the scene, was airlifted to Hartford Hospital, where she was put into an induced coma. She suffered an injury to the parietal lobe and continues to have symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, memory loss, slow mental processing, irritability and depression.
Truck driver Larry Spencer, who was delivering a load of steel for Metals USA of Seekonk, Mass., claimed his brakes failed and he had attempted to use his emergency brake, according to Crockford's attorney, Scott D. Camassar.
Police determined the brakes were working and the emergency brake had not been deployed.
Crockford, 59, has been unable to return to her work at the church and as a part-time book editor. The economic damages cover her past and future medical bills and her lost income of about $65,000 a year. The noneconomic damages are for pain and permanent injury, disability and loss of enjoyment of life and activities.
She said she intended to remain at the church for years to come so that she could marry the children she had baptized after arriving there in 2004.
Crockford, family members and church members had testified at the trial. Her attorneys had also called one of the neuropsychologists who treated her and a tractor trailer expert.
The driver and his employer were represented by attorneys Steven Malitz and Michael Kenney. Malitz said they admitted liability before the trial began and that their own expert confirmed Crockford had a permanent injury.
"Mr. Spencer, who is not a mechanic, indicated that for whatever reason, when he asked the brakes to do what they do, they did not respond," Malitz said. "He said he stepped on the brakes on two occasions, and they didn't work."
The defendants fought the recklessness claim, which could have triggered punitive damages and doubled or tripled the verdict, Malitz said.
Camassar said the defendants offered $1 million before the trial began and $1.4 million during the trial. Malitz said the plaintiffs asked the jury to consider awarding $5.8 to $6.8 million.