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Slot Player Awarded $499,000 After Fall

Mohegan–– A tribal court judge has awarded $499,613 to a Groton man who injured his back and neck after falling from a broken slot machine chair at Mohegan Sun.

Frank Wilson Jr., who had worked as a machinist at Electric Boat, sued the casino for lost wages and pain and suffering resulting from the July 7, 2001 accident. Wilson, now 49, was playing slots when the back of his chair broke. He fell to the floor, landing on his buttocks and back. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and later underwent surgery as a result of the fall.

Wilson briefly returned to work after the accident but was “frustrated by neck and back pain” and ceased working five months later, according to a court document.

Judge F. Owen Eagan awarded Wilson $499.613.47 plus costs following a three-day trial in the Mohegan tribe's Gaming Disputes Court, during which seven witnesses testified. Eagan determined that Wilson's fall at the casino alone “did not so disable him that he lost the ability to perform other less strenuous, sedentary work.” The judge wrote that Wilson's dependence on pain pills and the sleep disorder narcolepsy, with which he has been diagnosed, prevent him from resuming work.

Wilson had previously injured his back and neck –– and received workers compensation settlements –– while working at Electric Boat. He suffered injuries in a 1993 car accident and was involved in another accident in 2002. Over the years, he became dependent on the Oxycontin and Percocet pills that he took to manage his pain, according to the court document.

“The evidence shows he has been unwilling to work with his doctors to limit his use of narcotics by participating in various physical therapies, including pain management, recommended by his doctor,” Eagan wrote. “Rather the plaintiff has resisted all efforts to reduce his drug dependence.”

A doctor called to testify by the casino's lawyers had said Wilson needed to be weaned off the drugs, while Wilson's attorney, M. John Strafaci of New London, argued that Wilson needs the narcotics to manage his pain.

“It's sort of a Catch 22,” Strafaci said Monday. “I think the judge probably came down somewhere in the middle. He gave a substantial award for future lost earnings, but he didn't give him 100 percent.”

Eagan awarded Wilson $1,070 for lost wages for his initial absence from work due to the fall; $56,710 in disability payments for the year-long period following his surgery; $239,941 for future lost wages; $35,354 for medical bills related to the accident and $166,537 for “non-economic damages.” The judge calculated the last figure using a formula that capped “pain and suffering” judgments at 50 percent of medical bills and lost wages. The Mohegans passed an ordinance changing the cap to 200 percent a month after Wilson's accident.

Strafaci said the outcome was fair even though he objects to the cap on non-economic damages. State courts do not impose such a cap, leaving it “up to the evidence and the common sense of whoever is trying the case,” he said.

“We were fortunate in that we got a fairly substantial verdict,” Strafaci said. “But when you look at the cap of 50 percent, that's a very harsh cap. It doesn't help Mr. Wilson, but it's nice to know the tribe ... changed it to increase it to the current 200 percent.”
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