A Philadelphia jury yesterday awarded more
than $75 million to a former highway construction worker who was
left quadriplegic after he was struck by a drunken driver and
thrown more than 100 feet.
In the verdict for Tuski v. Ivyland Cafe, both the
drunken driver and the bar where he worked and had served himself
drinks that morning were found liable for more than $50 million in
Both defendants were also hit with punitive damage awards. The
jury said the owners of the Ivyland Cafe should pay $5 million in
punitive damages and that driver Michael Petaccio should pay $20
million in punitives.
Plaintiffs' attorney Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett
& Bendesky said he believes the award to plaintiff Joseph Tuski
may be the second-largest verdict ever in Philadelphia in a
non-death personal injury case.
(The largest such verdict was won by attorney Andrew Stern of The
Beasley Firm in November 2000 in Vlasny v. Cavarocchi
in which a jury awarded $100 million to a 5-year-old girl in a
medical malpractice suit against two hospitals and four doctors it
held responsible for a series of injuries that left her
brain-damaged and missing an arm.)
Yesterday's verdict came after a six-day trial before Philadelphia
Common Pleas Judge John Milton Younge. The jury deliberated for two
hours before announcing its verdict.
In the verdict, the jury awarded Tuski more than $1.6 million for
his past medical expenses, $18 million for future medical expenses,
and $2 million for lost earnings.
The verdict also included four awards of $7.25 million each -- or
$29 million -- for pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures,
embarrassment and disfigurement.
According to court papers, on Jan. 17, 2001, Tuski was working as
a flagman for Liberty Construction at a road-paving project in
One lane of the road was closed to traffic, and Tuski and another
flagman were directing traffic. At the time of the accident, Tuski
had several cars stopped in order to allow the oncoming traffic to
Mongeluzzi said in court papers that Petaccio passed the stopped
cars on the shoulder and struck Tuski at more than 40 miles per
hour, throwing him more than 108 feet and causing injuries that
left him paralyzed from the neck down.
After the accident, according to court papers, Petaccio fled the
scene and drove to his nearby home where he smashed into pillars
near his driveway.
Mongeluzzi said Petaccio then persuaded his girlfriend to take him
to his mother's house in Philadelphia. When they discovered that
his mother was not at home, they went to the home of Petaccio's
sister, who immediately called the police and informed them that
her brother "was drunk and had been in an accident." Police
arrested Petaccio several hours after the accident and noted that
he appeared intoxicated, Mongeluzzi said in court papers.
But Petaccio at first denied drinking any alcohol in the six hours
before his arrest and refused to submit to a blood test, Mongeluzzi
After police obtained a search warrant, Petaccio's blood was
tested about 8 p.m. It showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.17
At trial, Mongeluzzi and his co-counsel, Michael J. Hopkins, set
out to prove that Petaccio was excessively drunk at the time of the
Charles Winek, a toxicologist who testified for the plaintiff,
estimated that Petaccio's blood-alcohol level at the time of the
accident was at least 0.24 percent and possibly as high as 0.27
Petaccio pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge in September
2001, but he testified at the civil trial that his guilty plea was
motivated by a desire to avoid jail time and that he was not drunk
at the time of the accident. He said he had consumed several drinks
after the accident, but Mongeluzzi said he strongly challenged
Petaccio's claim on cross-examination.
Petaccio admitted that prior to the accident he had consumed
one-and-a-half bottles of beer at the Ivyland Cafe where he worked
as a manager, Mongeluzzi said, and that he knew his drinking
violated the bar's policy against employee's consumption of
alcoholic beverages on the premises. But Mongeluzzi insisted that
Petaccio must have drunk much more. He told the jury that
Petaccio's car was found later with a broken windshield and with
empty beer containers in the front seat.
Petaccio's girlfriend testified in her deposition that Petaccio
was a daily drinker and often drank to excess. She also said that
she tried to warn his family before the accident.
"I called his whole family at Christmas time before the accident
and I told them that I was leaving, that he was an alcoholic and
that somebody needed to do something because there was going to be
something bad that was going to happen," Kristine Camm
Mongeluzzi said he hopes the punitive damage verdict sends a
strong message to bar owners that "if you turn drunks loose on our
highways, Pennsylvania juries will hold you responsible."
The Ivyland Cafe had a $1 million insurance policy, but Mongeluzzi
said the insurer never offered it to settle the case.
As a result, Mongeluzzi said the collection of the verdict may
entail a bad faith lawsuit against the bar's insurer.
Petaccio tendered his personal automobile policy of $100,000, but
he also owns several homes that could be used to satisfy the
verdict, Mongeluzzi said.
Neither of the two defense lawyers in the case could be reached
for comment yesterday. Attorney John F.X. Monaghan Jr. of Monaghan
Ferrante & Fortin represented the Ivyland Cafe. Attorney
Christine Gallagher Boyle of Marks O'Neill O'Brien & Courtney