A former Pennsylvania road worker who was paralyzed by a drunk driver as he directed traffic has reached a workers’ compensation settlement agreement for $3 million. This is believed to be one of the largest settlements in the U.S. In getting to this point, he has also gone through a Dram Shop Act lawsuit and a bad faith insurance claim.
Joseph Tuski was directing traffic on January 17, 2001 in Warminster, Pennsylvania. At about 10:30 a.m., a car driven by Michael Petaccio struck him. Petaccio reportedly sped around a line of cars Tuski had stopped, hitting Tuski and throwing him about sixty feet. The accident rendered Tuski a quadriplegic, and he must spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair with 24-hour care. Petaccio had reportedly just left the Ivyland Cafe, a bar in Warminster owned by Petaccio’s family where Petaccio was the manager. Petaccio pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and aggravated assault later that year, and he was sentenced to three years in prison but received work release.
Tuski first filed suit against Petaccio and the Ivyland Cafe, claiming negligence and Dram Shop Act liability. Dram Shop Acts hold businesses who serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals liable for damages subsequently caused due to that person’s intoxication. Tuski presented evidence that, at the time, he had $1.6 million in medical bills and future medical expenses of at least 12 million. A Philadelphia jury awarded Tuski an enormous but largely symbolic verdict in 2004 totalling $75.6 million in damages. This included $50.6 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages, but neither defendant had the ability to pay such an amount. Petaccio only had $100,000 in liability insurance coverage, while The Ivyland Cafe had coverage of $1 million.
After the verdict, the bar lost its appeal, although a judge cut the jury’s award in half. The bar’s insurer then reportedly refused to pay the policy limits of the award. Tuski sued the insurance company for bad faith refusal to pay a claim. Although a plaintiff in an injury case has no direct relationship with a defendant’s insurer, since the insurance company’s obligation to pay is based on a contractual relationship with the defendant, many states allow a plaintiff to pursue an insurer for payment of a specific award. In this case, the bar assigned its rights under its insurance contract to Tuski. In June 2007, Tuski reached a settlement with the insurance company for $20 million.