Posted on Jan 26, 2006
New Milford attorney wins state-record jury award
Legal team gets paraplegic client $26.5 million
By Lynda Wellman
New Milford attorney Roland Moots is celebrating the team effort that resulted in a jury award of a $26.5 million for a paraplegic client. The award was reportedly a record amount for an injury case in a federal court in Connecticut.
Last week, a U.S. District Court jury found Arpin Logistics Inc. and Paul Arpin Van Lines liable for negligence in an accident that injured Shawn Pouliot, 34. The accident took place in Waterbury.
"When the jury started reading the verdict, (Pouliot) started to cry, sobbing," Moots said.
He said emotion was high in the courtroom, and the two-day wait for the verdict was "nerve-wracking."
Arpin reportedly plans an appeal.
Moots — of Moots, Pellegrini, Mannion, Martindale & Dratch in New Milford — said that Pouliot, an Ohio resident and father of three, an independent truck driver hired to do a job by Paul Arpin Van Lines of Rhode Island. The company wanted Pouliot to deliver an 800-pound piece of equipment to Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury.
As he was unloading it from an Arpin-owned truck, the equipment fell on him and crushed his back. Pouliot claimed the truck and its lift gate were inadequate for a piece of equipment that large.
"It was an incredibly traumatic injury," Moots said, explaining that his client can't walk and has lost bodily functions from the waist down. Because of a skin ulcer, Pouliot has to remain on his side 20 hours a day.
Moots, a New Milford attorney since 1969, said Shawn Pouliot was referred to him, and it became apparent early on the case would involve a great deal of work. Moots ultimately teamed up with Michael Stratton, "a very good trial lawyer," he said, who became the lead attorney in the case.
Moots said depositions were taken "all over the country," including with Pouliot in Ohio, with Arpin in Rhode Island, and with the manufacturer of the work station Festo, headquartered in Hauppauge, N.Y.
Moots said Debbie Cassavechia, his firm's personal-injury paralegal, developed a good rapport with Pouliot and traveled often for the case.
In a press release issued Monday, Stratton said Arpin attempted to blame the accident on the corporation that owned the load and on Pouliot, who was an independent trucker.
Stratton, who is from the New Haven firm of Stratton Faxon, argued that a faulty lift gate on the truck caused the accident.
He said the verdict is the highest for any injury case in any federal court in the state.
The jury determined Arpin was 100 percent responsible for the accident and that Pouliot and the manufacturer of the 800-pound work station were not "contributorily negligent."
Within a year of the accident, Pouliot's wife of seven years left him, and he was granted full custody of his three young children. Pouliot's mother and brother have been caring for him, Moots said.
The New Milford attorney said the verdict in the trial, which began Jan. 10, renewed his faith in the jury system.
"It's definitely one of the two or three highlights of my career to see the benefit our client is going to get from this," Moots said. "Justice was done. It's justice for the whole family, and that's what makes it great."
Moots said Arpin's insurer, AIG Insurance, failed to make meaningful offers to settle the case. "Their final offer would have covered less than half of Shawn's medical care," he said.
According to a press release, the verdict represents $6.5 million in medical care and lost income, $4 million for past disability and $400,000 a year for future disability over Shawn Pouliot's life expectancy.
Stratton said, "The law required the jury to balance Shawn's harms and losses with money.
"The defendant hoped the jury wouldn't follow the law," he said. "The defendant rolled the dice, and they were wrong."
Moots declined to reveal the fee his firm would receive in the case.