A recent decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court considered a car accident victim’s right to seek interest on a damages award of over $1.3 million. The case involved an important personal injury litigation strategy in Connecticut: the offer of compromise. Attorney Mike D’Amico of the prominent law firm of D’Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC, represented the plaintiff at trial.
The claim arose from a motor vehicle accident in Waterbury that caused serious neck and back injuries to the driver of a car that was struck from behind. Due to disc compression injuries and ongoing pain, the injured woman underwent multiple surgeries, spinal facet blocks, spinal epidurals and lumbar discography.
After she sued the driver of the other vehicle and the driver’s employer, the injury victim submitted an offer of compromise to the defendants, seeking a settlement for $300,000 in damages, which was the limit of the liability insurance policy available. The defendants declined to accept the offer in the thirty-day period required under Connecticut litigation practice rules, and the trial court later struck the offer from the record based on the plaintiff’s alleged failure to meet ongoing disclosure duties regarding the full extent of her medical treatment.
After a jury trial, the plaintiff was awarded $1,380,240 in damages, and sought an additional amount of nearly $240,000 based on the Connecticut law that authorizes interest to plaintiffs who eventually prevail after their offers of compromise are rejected and they are awarded an equal or higher amount at trial. The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s motion based on the stricken offer, and she appealed.
Strategic Offers of Compromise to Protect a Client’s Interests
On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that trial court judges have authority to strike otherwise valid offers of compromise based on violations of discovery orders; however, in this case, the Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion by striking the offer because the plaintiff had reasonably complied with her discovery obligations.
The court’s reasoning depended on a balancing of two factors:
- Discovery obligations
- Interest awards for rejected offers, which are clearly intended to punish defendants based on a public policy to encourage settlement of injury claims
Because the facts of the case did not show any bad faith on the part of the plaintiff or prejudice to the defendant caused by any alleged discovery violation, the sanction of striking the offer was error. As a result, the case was remanded with specific direction that the plaintiff’s motion for interest be granted. By the time the trial court entered its corrected order for interest the plaintiff received more than $500,000 of interest over and above the jury verdict amount.
This important decision meant a significant increase in compensation to the injury victim. From pre-trial negotiations to arguments on appeal, an experienced Connecticut car and truck accident lawyer can plan strategically to enhance the compensation due.