Couple awarded $10 million in Luzerne County Court
WILKES-BARRE – In one of the largest verdicts in Luzerne County history, a jury on Friday awarded a Dickson City woman and her husband just more than $10.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages for injuries the woman suffered after her vehicle was struck by a dump truck.
Holly Ann Kuchwara and her husband, Robert, filed suit against Theodus Williams of Olyphant and Valvano Construction Inc. of Dickson City in connection with the crash that occurred on May 7, 2010.
According the suit, Kuchwara was driving one of three vehicles that were involved in a chain-reaction crash after Williams failed to stop the 1979 Mack tri-axle dump truck he was driving on Dundaff Street in Dickson City.
The truck slammed into the rear of a car driven by Doreen Klaproth-Mazur, pushing the vehicle into the rear of Kuchwara’s 1998 Ford. The impact pushed Kuchwara’s car into another vehicle in front of her, then into a utility pole.
Kuchwara suffered severe injuries, including facial abrasions, fractured vertebrae and a severely broken ankle that has left her with a noticeable limp. Kuchwara’s attorney, Joseph Quinn, said evidence presented during the four-week trial before Judge William Amesbury showed the dump truck had numerous mechanical problems, including faulty brakes and steering. “It was horrific,”
Quinn said of the crash. “What made it even more horrific is the vehicle had so many defects state police found the vehicle should never, ever have been on the road."
Quinn said the evidence also showed Valvano did not have a maintenance or safety program, and that it failed to perform pre- or post-trip inspections of its vehicle to ensure they were safe.
“State police said if they had done a proper pre-trip inspection, they would have discovered the defective brakes and steering,” he said.
The jury found Valvano and Williams acted with reckless indifference, which allowed the Kuchwaras to seek punitive damages.
The panel awarded Holly Kuchwara $7,635,000 in compensatory damages for medical bills, emotional pain and past and future lost earnings. Her husband, Robert, was awarded $1,465,000 for loss of his wife’s companionship and services.
After reaching the verdict, the panel reconvened to consider punitive damages. It awarded the couple $1 million in damages against Valvano, and $25,000 against Williams.
“We’re obviously very thrilled with the verdict,” Quinn said. “It’s a huge award – an award we think is very deserving based on the very serious injuries our client suffered.”
The verdict is among the largest verdicts or settlements Quinn’s firm, HKQ Law, has secured in Luzerne County since 1999.
The largest award, $11 million, was secured by a settlement in 2005 with the former Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre with Tukishia and William Bobbett for the death of their son, Torajee.
Other multimillion dollar awards include a $10.4 million jury verdict in 2001 for Joan and William Godlewski against Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center for brain damage suffered by their child, and a $6.7 million verdict in 1999 for Heidi and Scott Schukraft against Wyoming Valley Health Care System for the death of their infant son.