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Wasilewski v. Abel Womack, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2016

TERRY WASILEWSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
ABEL WOMACK, INC., Defendant.

RULING ON MOTIONS RELATING TO JUDGMENT

Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

Plaintiff, Terry Wasilewski, brought this action seeking relief under the Connecticut Product Liability Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-572m et seq. Fourth Am. Compl., ECF No. 160-1. She claimed that a defective forklift, manufactured by Raymond Corporation (“Raymond”) and sold and serviced by the Defendant Abel Womack, Inc. (“Abel Womack”), caused her serious injury due to its defective design while she was employed at Rite Aid Corporation (“Rite Aid”). After a jury trial, Ms. Wasilewski received a verdict in her favor of $805, 000 for past and future medical expenses, $465, 000 for past and future lost earnings, and $4, 000, 000 in non-economic damages, for a total verdict of $5, 270, 000. Jury Damages Verdict Form, ECF No. 382.

The parties have filed various motions seeking to increase or decrease the amount of the award before the Court enters judgment. Abel Womack has filed a motion seeking to decrease the verdict under the collateral source rule, which Ms. Wasilewski opposes. Mot. to Amend/Correct Verdict by Collateral Source, ECF No. 371. Ms. Wasilewski seeks prejudgment interest under Connecticut General Statutes section 52-192a. Mot. to Amend Verdict/Judgment to Add Prejudgment Interest, ECF No. 388. Abel Womack opposes this request and asks the Court to strike Ms. Wasilewski’s offer of compromise, thereby precluding her from recovering prejudgment interest. Mot. for Remittitur and To Strike Plaintiff’s Offer of Compromise, ECF No. 399. Finally, Abel Womack has asked the Court to reduce the non-economic damages award, because, it argues, it is excessive. Id.

For the reasons that follow, Abel Womack’s motion to reduce the jury award by amounts already paid by collateral sources is GRANTED, and its motion regarding remittitur and striking the offer of compromise is DENIED. Ms. Wasilewski’s motion seeking prejudgment interest is GRANTED.

I. Abel Womack’s Collateral Source Motion

Abel Womack has moved to reduce Ms. Wasilewski’s economic damages award to account for medical expenses that were paid for by collateral sources. Mot to Amend/Correct Verdict by Collateral Source, ECF No. 371. Collateral sources include “any payments made to the claimant, or on his behalf, by . . . [a]ny health or sickness insurance . . . or [ ] any contract or agreement of any group, organization, partnership or corporation to provide, pay for or reimburse the costs of hospital, medical, dental or other health care services.” Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-225b. In a personal injury case, Connecticut General Statutes section 52-225a(a) authorizes the Court to reduce a plaintiff’s economic damages award by the amount of any collateral source payments, less any amount paid by the plaintiff to secure those benefits. Jones v. Kramer, 267 Conn. 336, 338-39, 345 (2004). Applying the collateral source rule requires balancing the desire to prevent a plaintiff from “obtaining double recoveries” against the goal of awarding damages- to restore an injured plaintiff to his original position as closely as possible. Id. at 347.

The parties agree that if the Court is to reduce the verdict by collateral source payments, it should do so by $60, 170.80. But Ms. Wasilewski argues that Abel Womack is not entitled to reduce the verdict by collateral source payments. Pl.’s Opp. Br. 3-5, ECF No. 387. For the reasons that follow, the Court disagrees and reduces the jury verdict by the collateral source payments of $60, 170.80.

In opposing Abel Womack’s motion, Ms. Wasilewski relies on Jones v. Kramer, where the Connecticut Supreme Court declined to apply the collateral source rule to reduce a jury verdict where it was unclear what precise expenses the jury had awarded as damages. 267 Conn. at 347-49. In Jones, the jury awarded a total of $15, 000 in economic damages[1], without differentiating between medical expenses and lost wages.[2] Id. at 339-40, 349. The Supreme Court reasoned that it could not apply the collateral source rule to the verdict, because it could not determine what items of medical expenses the damages verdict included. Id. at 349-51. Thus, it had no way to know whether the jury awarded damages for items that were paid for by collateral sources. The Court held that the burden lay with the defendant to show that the jury awarded damages for the items paid for by collateral sources by submitting “interrogatories to the jury concerning the specific items of damages included within the verdict.” Id. at 350; Pukulski v. Waterbury Hosp. Health Ctr., 269 Conn. 1, 9 (2004) (“[T]he burden is on the defendant, as the party seeking a collateral source reduction, to submit interrogatories to the jury concerning the specific items of damages included within the verdict.”).

Ms. Wasilewski argues that the Court cannot apply the collateral source rule in this case, because Abel Womack did not ask the Court or the jury to award separate amounts for past and future medical expenses and did not submit the interrogatories described in Jones. Pl.’s Opp. Br. 4-5, ECF No. 387.[3] She contends that, without at least one of these items, the Court has no way to determine whether the jury awarded damages for items covered by collateral sources.

The Court disagrees. First, this case differs from Jones because the jury awarded separate amounts for medical expenses and lost wages. Thus, there is no risk, as there was in Jones, that a collateral source reduction will apply to lost wages. Second, the jury awarded an amount greater than the total of all of Ms. Wasilewski’s past and future medical bills. Thus, it must have awarded damages for all of the costs covered by collateral sources.

A number of Connecticut Superior Court cases have reasoned that, where it is clear that the jury awarded all of the medical expenses on which a plaintiff submitted evidence, the Court may apply the collateral source rule consistent with Jones, even if the defendant does not submit interrogatories or otherwise ask the jury to itemize the precise bills or injuries justifying its damages award. See e.g., Ventura v. Town of East Haven, No. CV085024235S, 2015 WL 1588816, at *6 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 13, 2015) (applying collateral source rule where defendant did not present interrogatories envisioned by Jones itemizing which medical expenses were included in the past economic damages award because “the only evidence presented to the jury, upon which they could award past economic damages, was the plaintiff’s medical bills” and it was clear, based on the amount of past economic damages awarded, that the verdict included those medical bills in its award); Saraceno v. Hartford Ins. Co. of Midwest, No. CV010811755S, 2004 WL 3049759, at *2 (Conn. Super. Ct. Nov. 24, 2004) (collateral source rule could be applied without interrogatories envisioned by Jones where a “jury’s figure of economic damages [must have] include[d] all of the bills [ ] in the plaintiff’s summary of medical bills and nothing in addition.”); Perillo v. Jacobs, No. CV066000215S, 2009 WL 1333920, at *13-14 (Conn. Super. Ct. Apr. 20, 2009) (applying collateral source rule, despite the fact that the defendant did not present Jones interrogatories to the jury, because there was “no doubt involved in interpreting what losses the jury’s award is intended to compensate for-since a jury cannot award damages for which no evidence has been presented”); Furlong v. Merriman, No. HHBCV044000416S, 2006 WL 1461112, at *9 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 4, 2006) (applying collateral source rule where plaintiff did not submit interrogatories under Jones but it was “clear what the jury awarded concerning the plaintiff’s claimed medical expenses”). However, a number of other trial courts have read Jones differently. See e.g., Frohloff v. Demkowicz Mgmt., No. CV106004321, 2013 WL 951146, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 4, 2013) (refusing to apply the collateral source rule where jury awarded precisely the amount of past and future economic damages requested by plaintiff because there was insufficient evidence to calculate the collateral source reduction); Pouliot v. Paul Arpin Van Lines, Inc., 235 F.R.D. 537, 552 (D. Conn. 2006) (holding that Jones “unconditionally requires a defendant seeking a collateral source reduction to submit . . . interrogatories to the jury.”).

Given the importance of preventing double recovery, the Court will apply the collateral source rule here. Courts should not apply the collateral source rule where there is a risk of over-deduction. Jones, 267 Conn. at 349 (“[T]o apply a collateral source reduction… the trial court must know the specific types of damages that were awarded by the jury.”); cf. Brown v. Safeco Ins. Co., No. FSTCV126012717S, 2014 WL 4815465, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug. 18, 2014) (observing where Jones interrogatories were submitted that “[t]here can always be a greater level of detail sought-the issue is the adequacy of information provided, and whether it is sufficient to allow the court to calculate, properly, the amount (if any) of the collateral source reduction... The statutory scheme, as interpreted in Jones and Pikulski, requires the court to be satisfied that it is matching a collateral source payment with expenditures that are related to an element of damages awarded by the jury….”).

Here, there is no such risk. As mentioned above, both parties agree, as a matter of fact, that collateral sources paid for $60, 170.80 of Ms. Wasilewski’s past medical expenses. The jury awarded $805, 000 for Ms. Wasilewski’s past and future medical expenses. Jury Damages Verdict Form, ECF No. 382.[4] A summary of Ms. Wasilewski s medical bills admitted into evidence shows that her past medical bills totaled $623, 162.21. Pl.’s Trial Ex. 158; see also Trial Tr. 1298:23-1299:22, ECF No. 393 (Ms. Wasilewksi testifying about Exhibit 158 and the amounts she paid in medical bills). The evidence also showed that Ms. Wasilewski would incur future medical expenses of $1, 820.22 per year and an additional $12, 686.91 every three years. Pl.’s Trial Ex. 109; Trial Tr. 1387:7-15 (admitting Exhibit 109 into evidence), 1388:13-1389:20 (explaining the basis for the figures provided in Exhibit 109), ECF No. 394. The Court instructed the jury that it could find that Ms. Wasilewski would live another twenty-seven years. Trial Tr. 1468:11-17, ECF No. 394. Applying her annual and triennial costs over that time period would result in future medical expenses of $163, 328.13. The total of these past and future medical expenses is $786, 490.34.[5]

The fact that the jury’s award for past and future medical expenses exceeded $786, 490.34 means, unequivocally, that the jury included all of Ms. Wasilewski’s past medical bills in its award. To find otherwise would require also concluding that the jury’s verdict was not based on the evidence and law applicable to this case. See Jones, 267 Conn. at 350 n.7 (“It is axiomatic… that in every tort action, the fact finder may award economic damages only if the plaintiff has proven those damages to a reasonable certainty and has shown that the defendant had proximately caused the damages.”); see also Champagne v. Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., 2 ...


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