Fatal crash settled for $2.6 million

Truck company's insurer paid for '99 bridge collapse

`Civil' talks produced deal

Agreement heads off as much as five years of litigation in case

July 19, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Victims of last year's Baltimore Beltway bridge collapse have won $2.6 million in an unusual settlement that was hammered out by a mediator and avoided a lengthy lawsuit.

The insurance company for T.T.K. Transport Inc. of Ontario, Canada, has paid the money to three people who were injured in the accident and the family of one man who died. The company owned the improperly loaded rig that slammed into the Arbutus footbridge during the evening rush hour on June 8, 1999, knocking it onto three cars and closing Baltimore's main traffic artery for 12 hours.

Howard S. Chasanow, a retired appeals court judge who was chosen as mediator by lawyers for the victims, said he has never seen a dispute "of this dimension" settled before a suit is filed.

"This is very unusual," he said, adding that "alternative dispute resolution is the wave of the future."

Chasanow and lawyers in the case said the settlement avoided what could have been five years of litigation, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and continued trauma for the victims.

If the case had gone to a jury, said Chasanow, "your fate is in the hands of six people off the street. With mediation, the litigants themselves make the decision."

Details of the case were released in the last few days, after the money was distributed.

It was paid to Regina L. Brehon of Northwest Baltimore, Elizabeth Freeman, a Catonsville resident, and Henri Patrice Williams, now living in Detroit, who were injured.

Payments also went to the survivors of Robert N. Taylor of Northwest Baltimore, who was killed when chunks of concrete fell onto his car.

The state will also receive $100,000, to pay for damage to the bridge, as part of the $2.6 million settlement.

The lawyers said that representatives for the injured and for Taylor's survivors began a series of monthly meetings about eight months ago and eventually agreed on a percentage split. On June 3, they met at the Omni Hotel in Baltimore with Chasanow and representatives of the trucking company and reached an agreement.

Taylor's two daughters received almost $500,000 each under the settlement, their lawyers said yesterday.

One of the women, Pamela White, 36, had had no contact with Taylor until about four years ago, said her lawyer, Ronald S. Landsman, adding: "They were developing a relationship, a strong relationship, when the accident happened."

White, who lives in Hanover, N.H., could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The other daughter, Gwendolyn Taylor, 33, of Northwest Baltimore, lived as a child with her mother but maintained a lifelong relationship with her father, said her lawyer, J. Allan Cohen. She also could not be reached.

It could not be determined yesterday how much of the settlement Brehon, Freeman and Wilson received.

Police said the pedestrian bridge came crashing down when it was hit by a truck carrying an excavator nearly 3 feet higher than allowed by law. Witnesses said the backhoe on the truck hit the bridge, lifting it slightly and causing it to collapse.

Truck driver Paul C. McIntosh of Brussels, Ontario, was issued four traffic citations and fined $880. He did not face criminal charges.

The accident sparked calls from state officials for the installation of electronic devices to measure truck heights at weigh stations. Officials also reviewed inspection reports for the 2,466 bridges maintained by the state and found that 113 showed evidence of being hit or nicked by too-tall vehicles.

Carl H. Helmstetter, a national mediation authority and lawyer in Kansas City, Mo., said he had never heard of a "case of this magnitude in this country ... where you have tragic injuries and death" settled without a lawsuit.

Brian S. Goodman, lawyer for the trucking company, said reaching a settlement without a lawsuit "is very rare."

"I've been practicing law for 17 years and I can't remember a case this size settling this civilly," Goodman said. "People hear all kinds of bad things about lawyers, but we worked hard and got it done."

He said that his client, which could have been sued along with its insurance company, decided to do "the right thing."

"We stepped up to the plate, and we were able to sit down ... and come to a fair and responsible settlement," Goodman said.

Mark Cantor, a lawyer for Elizabeth Freeman, who suffered several fractured bones, said: "The most important benefit of this is [the victims didn't] have to relive this. In demonstrating this to a jury, we would have had to recreate the accident."

Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

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