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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settled For $1.2 Million — Police Proven Wrong In Accident Reconstruction

After Catherine Kerr’s husband was informed that the Plainfield Police had found his wife of 25 years at fault when she was struck by a pickup truck as she crossed Prospect Street in Moosup while leaving her church on September 29, 2013, he was outraged.

Catherine Kerr was a parishioner at All Hallows Church, a beloved Catholic elementary school teacher, who had been married for over 25 years and the mother of two adult daughters. Her husband knew she was always careful about every aspect of her life and whenever she crossed the street, it was only while in a crosswalk. He was positive the police report was wrong when the police determined Catherine was not in the crosswalk when she stepped out into the street as she came down the steps of the church after Sunday morning Mass.

The police investigators had accepted what the driver of the pickup, James Gudeahn of Moosup, had said about how the accident occurred without interviewing Catherine. Gudeahn had claimed he was traveling at 15 mph when he saw Catherine, that she was not in the crosswalk and it was too late for him to stop.

Catherine was thrown over 30 feet upon being hit. She sustained life-threatening injuries including multiple broken ribs, punctured lung, fractures of arm, neck and skull. After being hospitalized for 20 days, she was discharged to recuperate at home. On November 6, 2013, as she attempted to stand up, while still in a weakened state, she collapsed and died instantly. The police were never able to interview her.

Even though Mr. Kerr told the police investigators that Catherine’s first words when she regained consciousness at the hospital were “I was crossing in the crosswalk and I don’t know what happened after that”, he could not convince the police to change their conclusions that Catherine was not in the crosswalk when struck.

The Kerr Family insisted on an autopsy as they were sure her death was related to her severe injuries five weeks earlier. When the State Medical Examiner’s Autopsy report was released the family was dumbfounded. The medical examiner had concluded that Catherine had died from “natural causes” due to a clogged artery and her critical injuries played no role in her death. Mr. Kerr met with the medical examiner explaining that Catherine was a very healthy woman when she sustained severe left chest injuries in the accident and that the injuries she suffered on September 29th must have caused her sudden death, but that report was not changed either.

At this point, the family decided it was time to hire an attorney to thoroughly investigate these questionable findings of the police and the medical examiner. The Kerr family contacted The Reardon Law Firm of New London through the Plainfield firm of Kaplan and Brennan. The Reardon Law Firm agreed to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the case on their behalf. The Reardon Firm first determined that the Chevrolet Silverado pickup Gudeahn was driving was still impounded in storage at the Plainfield Police Station. They arranged for the Airbag Control Module, commonly called a black box, to be downloaded an expert they hired to determine the exact speed, braking and impact point of the pickup with Catherine. They then hired Matthew Brauch, a nationally recognized engineer who had developed widely used accident reconstruction system to determine “throw distances” of pedestrians when struck by motor vehicles. Mr. Brauch reconstructed the accident by combining the black box data with the physical evidence at the scene. It then became very clear that the pickup was going in excess of the speed limit, not 15 mph, that Gudeahn had unobstructed sight line for over 200 feet to see Catherine step off the curb, that she had stepped onto the crosswalk from the curb and walked more than halfway across the street in the crosswalk before she was struck by the pickup and that Gudeahn had ample time to stop or slow his pickup to avoid hitting her.

The Reardon Law Firm then addressed questions about the cause of death findings of the State Medical Examiner. Fortunately the artery in question had been preserved in formaldehyde at the state lab. The Firm retained Dr. Michael Baden, an internationally known forensic pathologist who has served as an expert in numerous high profile cases. Dr. Baden conducted a microscopic analysis of the artery. He determined that the artery was not blocked as the medical examiner had observed and that the artery could not have been the cause of her death. Instead, Dr. Baden found that the severe, traumatic injuries to her left chest including fractured ribs and punctured lung had caused the delayed sudden onset of cardiac arrhythmia as Catherine attempted to stand from a prone position. The cause of death, according to Dr. Baden, was the accident, not natural causes.

When presented with all this convincing evidence, disputing the findings of both the Plainfield Police and the State Medical Examiner’s office, Gudeahn’s insurance company finally agreed to pay his auto insurance coverage in the amount of $1.2 million in settlement for the wrongful death of Catherine Kerr.

“The determination of the Kerr family to clear Catherine’s name and the persistence of The Reardon Law Firm in successfully undertaking an extensive three year investigation, challenging the official findings relating to Catherine’s death, established with accuracy how this tragic accident occurred. Establishing these facts has brought a sense of satisfaction to this family that justice has finally been done”, according to Bob Reardon, of The Reardon Law Firm.

“When the Kerr family came to us years ago, we recognized that police and Medical Examiner findings are not always correct. With the hard work of our firm and the skill of some of the top experts in the field we were able to establish what really happened. This case demonstrates that while police investigators and the state pathologists generally do a very good job, a thorough, independent investigation can sometimes brings facts to the surface that the authorities have not considered. We are pleased we could help the Kerr family and bring an end to the tragic ordeal they have experienced”, stated Bob Reardon.

For more information, please see http://www.norwichbulletin.com/news/20160908/family-of-plainfield-crash-victim-wins-12-million-insurance-settlement