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Awards in two cases top $1 million

NIAGARA FALLS -- Two unrelated cases in State Supreme Court over the past week have led to jury awards of more than $1 million.

In one case, jurors awarded a Newfane man nearly $4 million for injuries he suffered in a 2004 automobile accident in the Town of Lockport. In that case, the defendant admitted she was running late for a hairdresser's appointment and passing cars in a no-passing zone when she caused the crash.

Thomas J. Morse was awarded more than $3.68 million by a six-person jury in Justice Ralph A. Boniello's court April 20, but his attorney, Christopher O'Brien, said Morse agreed prior to the jury's decision to settle for what defendant Paula J. Herschell's insurance company would pay: $500,000.

In the other case, a medical malpractice lawsuit, jurors awarded $1.2 million in the 2003 death of a Niagara Falls woman.

Arlene Le Posa, 66, was hospitalized with end-stage renal disease and died in Mount St. Mary's Hospital during an attempt to insert a temporary dialysis catheter, according to the family's attorney, Robert T. Nichols.

Vascular and general surgeon Dr. Ajitkumar T. Trivikram, who has a private practice in Niagara Falls and is on staff at Mount St. Mary's, was found negligent on Wednesday, after a weeklong trial. The hospital was not included in the lawsuit.

In State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso's court, Le Posa's husband, Robert Sr., and the couple's three sons were unanimously awarded $1.2 million by the six-person jury for wrongful death, Nichols said. The award included money for Mrs. Le Posa's pain and suffering.

Nichols said medical malpractice does not affect a doctor's practice unless he has a track record. He said Trivikram's insurance will pay.

"The issue was not whether he was a good doctor, but professional negligence in this case. The experts, and even the doctor himself, testified that none of them had ever experienced [a death after inserting a dialysis catheter]," Nichols said. "The doctor argued that this was an acceptable risk of the procedure."

Dr. Trivikram was unavailable for comment on the case.

In the Lockport accident, Morse, driving a pickup truck, was injured on March 30, 2004, on Lake Avenue when Herschell, driving a station wagon, crossed the double yellow line in a no-passing zone and hit Morse's vehicle.

Herschell conceded her negligence in the case and had pleaded guilty in Lockport Town Court, but the jury was responsible for deciding how much to award, based on Morse's injuries in the accident.

Morse was on his way to Tonawanda to work on some rental property and Herschell was coming to Newfane from her Lockport home for her hair appointment.

The jury unanimously awarded $300,000 for past pain and suffering, $2.7 million for future pain and suffering, and more than $500,000 for future medical costs, which will include back surgery. Jurors awarded his wife, Barbara, $180,000 for the additional duties she had to perform while her husband was injured. Barbara Morse was not directly involved in the accident.

Morse, a pressman for Greater Niagara Newspapers, suffered four fractured ribs and herniated discs in his neck and upper back, according to testimony in the case. Morse told the court that he is able to continue work on a restricted basis, but his doctors predicted in court Morse will need back surgery in three to five years and be unable to work.

O'Brien said the jury is not allowed to know before they deliberate, but said Morse had already agreed to a limited award based on Herschell's insurance policy.

"Mr. Morse is not going to get millions of dollars. He agreed to be bound by [Herschell's] insurance policy," O'Brien said. "All he wanted is to be treated fairly by her insurance company. . . . He did not want to go after her personally."

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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