A Circuit Court jury ordered the Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company to pay a Pasadena man $14,638 in damages yesterday, ruling that the company was liable for a 1989 accident caused by its volunteer chief.
Richard W. Saddler, of the 2000 block of Poplar Ride Road in Pasadena, had filed a $2.9 million negligence lawsuit against three parties: the chief, Michael W. Robinson; another man involved in the accident, Eugene P. Howard; and Susan Carol Young, who lent Mr. Howard her car.
The suit was later amended to include Anne Arundel County and the Fire Department.
The accident occurred on Oct. 18, 1989, as Mr. Saddler, 50, was driving south on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena in rainy weather. The suit contended that Chief Robinson was driving north at an excessive speed on Fort Smallwood Road to his other job, as a lieutenant with Baltimore County emergency medical services.
The suit said Chief Robinson was driving behind Mr. Howard when Mr. Howard suddenly stopped to make a left turn. Chief Robinson rammed the back of Mr. Howard's car, pushing it into the path of Mr. Saddler's oncoming car.
As a result of the accident, the suit claimed, Mr. Saddler suffered extensive injuries, including a ringing in his ears, hearing problems, back problems and emotional distress.
In the course of the three-day trial, Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled that the county was not liable. The law places a $20,000 cap on damages that could be awarded against the fire company.
Neither Mr. Howard nor Ms. Young were ruled at fault in the accident, and Chief Robinson was held not personally responsible.
During closing arguments yesterday, Michele A. Dane, an assistant county attorney representing the volunteer fire company, said Mr. Saddler was entitled to some damages but was asking for too much.
She noted that Mr. Saddler claimed similar injuries in an earlier lawsuit filed against the Baltimore-Washington International Airport by about 20 residents living near there. That suit attributed the injuries to noise emanating from the airport.
And six months after the Oct. 18 accident, he filed a claim with his employer citing similar injuries. He claimed his job as a railroad worker had caused ringing in his ears and hearing loss.
Neither of these claims was revealed during pretrial discovery.
"This man is pulling a scam, and it should make you mad," Ms. Dane told the jury.
But Mr. Saddler's attorney, Joseph A. Miklasz, compared his client to a work of art by Picasso that had been damaged, and therefore should be compensated. He said Mr. Saddler would not have much money left from the award after he paid for attorney's fees, expert witness fees and outstanding medical costs.
"This guy has really been victimized. It took him three years to get to court. When he got to court, it cost him a bundle," Mr. Miklasz said.