|By Brian Hallenbeck, The Day, New London,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 7, 2009--MASHANTUCKET -- Richard Murch arrived Thursday morning at Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court prepared for days of arduous testimony in his 2-year-old personal-injury lawsuit against Foxwoods Resort Casino.
He wore a prosthetic leg.
Then, before the trial could commence, attorneys informed him that a settlement had been reached. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises, which operates Foxwoods, had agreed to pay the 68-year-old Murch $2.9 million in actual damages and for the pain and suffering he endured following the November 2006 valet-parking accident that caused him to have his right leg amputated above the knee.
"I was very pleasantly surprised," Murch, of Tewksbury, Mass., said later. "It was an 11th-hour settlement, but a settlement all the same.
"I think the settlement was fair," he said. "I'm very happy with the result. I'm going to sit back now and relax -- and go on with the rest of my life. ... I've had a tough time."
Murch's travails began Nov. 20, 2006, the day he and his wife, Carolyn, drove to Foxwoods to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Murch had delivered his car to a valet parking attendant and was retrieving his wife's sweater from the trunk when another vehicle struck him from behind, pinning him against his car, according to court documents.
The driver of the standard-transmission vehicle that struck Murch, which had been parked two to three car lengths behind Murch's car, had left it in first gear without engaging the parking brake. While standing outside the vehicle, a valet reached in and started the engine. The vehicle shot forward.
"... It appears Rich (Murch) was initially crushed between the two vehicles, and the force of the collision propelled Rich's car forward," court documents say. "The (other vehicle) continued forward and knocked Rich down."
A valet had to get into the vehicle and restart it to get it off Murch's legs, the suit says.
Under the agreement reached Thursday, MPGE and its insurance company, Liberty Mutual, will pay Murch $2,925,000. The company that insured the owner of the vehicle that struck Murch will pay $100,000, bringing the total settlement to $3,025,000.
M. John Strafaci, the New London attorney who represented Murch, called the settlement "very fair given all the factors involved." He said the amount would cover the medical expenses his client has incurred as well as those he's likely to incur in the future, including those associated with more advanced prosthetics that may become available.
David Williams of the Norwich firm Brown Jacobson, who represented MPGE, was unavailable to comment later in the day.
In a statement, Jackson King, general counsel for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, said: "We feel this is a fair settlement for Mr. Murch's severe and unfortunate injuries and hope that it serves as some consolation for his loss."
King said that to his knowledge it was the tribal court's highest personal-injury settlement.
Strafaci, who initially proposed a $4.75 million settlement several months ago, said he also sought compensation for Murch's lost earnings and the cost of renovations needed to make his home and a retirement cottage in Maine accessible to the handicapped. At the time of the accident, Murch, a retired assistant general manager of a utility company, worked part time as a bookkeeper for an office-supply company and as a handyman at a commercial building complex. He has not worked since the accident.
"I can't say (the settlement) will cover all my expenses but that was the objective," Murch said.
According to court documents, he received a prosthetic with a hydraulic knee in September 2007 and was later fitted with a prosthetic with a microprocessor-controlled knee. The C-Leg, as it is known, cost more than $40,000.
"The hardest part was getting to the point where I could use a prosthetic leg," Murch said. "I can't wear it 24 hours a day. I don't sleep with it, so I have to use a wheelchair at night."
Had a trial proceeded before Judge Edward O'Connell, Strafaci said he would have called on Murch, his wife, his two daughters and a son-in-law to testify as well as a number of expert witnesses, including a life-care planner who would have provided estimates of Murch's future expenses. Foxwoods retained its own expert witnesses who would have provided different estimates, Strafaci said.
At the time of Murch's injury, tribal law capped the amount the court could award for pain and suffering in personal-injury cases at 100 percent of the actual damages sustained. Six months later, in May 2007, the cap was raised to 200 percent of actual damages.
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