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Crash suit settled for $350,000; disability pay collected from deputy

Niagara County paid out $350,000 to a Wilson woman last week to settle a lawsuit over an auto accident, but it also collected $190,000 in reimbursements for wages it paid a former sheriff's deputy who won a record-setting settlement in an off-duty car crash.

The County Legislature voted last week in favor of the payout to Maureen Bryer of Wilson and to accept the repayment for money it paid Deputy Jeffrey Miller while he was off on disability.

The Bryer case started May 13, 2000, when the woman, now 65, was driving on Wilson-Burt Road on a sunny Saturday morning. There had been torrential rains the night before.

According to court papers, Bryer was driving 50 to 55 mph when her vehicle struck a 14-foot-wide culvert that had collapsed.

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said the auto went airborne for about 50 feet and when it crashed, Bryer suffered spine injuries that four doctors said were permanently disabling.

Joerg said Bryer originally sued for more than $1 million, charging the county was negligent in road maintenance. The county argued that the collapse of the 75-year-old culvert was never reported. It presented testimony from a sheriff's deputy who said that he drove over it about five hours before Bryer did and that all was well then.

Joerg said Bryer's attorneys had never been interested in less than $900,000 for an out-of-court settlement, but after two days of testimony before a jury in State Supreme Court in Niagara Falls Oct. 16 and 17, they offered to take $350,000.

In the other case, Miller, who won an $8.9 million jury verdict in 2003, paid the county $5,000, and the loser in Miller's lawsuit, Ford Motor Credit Co., coughed up the other $185,000.

After the $8.9 million verdict, Miller settled with Ford for an undisclosed lesser amount to forestall an appeal. Joerg said the county then moved to reimburse itself for payments to Miller while he was still on the county payroll but unable to work.

Donald Chiari, partner in the Brown Chiari firm that represented Miller and has used him in its TV commercials, said he thought it was up to Ford to pay back the county, although he was aware Miller made a small payment.

Miller, now 47, suffered spinal and knee injuries July 7, 2000, on Transit Road in Clarence when his auto was struck from behind in a chain-reaction crash.

It was triggered by a leased Ford pickup truck driven by an employee of Install Co. of Cheektowaga.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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