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A sneeze + a slippery boot = a $2 million lawsuit against the Town of Amherst

A husband and wife injured five years ago when a Town of Amherst dump truck plowed into their pickup from behind have accepted $225,000 to settle the $2 million lawsuit they filed against the town.

The town had argued it wasn't responsible for all of the couple's medical issues, and was ready to make that case at trial, but ultimately decided settling was in the town's best financial interests, said Town Attorney Stanley J. Sliwa.

"It's a compromise," Sliwa said.

The lawsuit stemmed from a motor vehicle accident that took place on March 5, 2014, on Millersport Highway near North French Road. Charlie Zanghi was driving his wife, Shannon, to a doctor's appointment in his 2005 Ford pickup.

They were southbound and were followed by a Highway Department dump truck, operated by James L. Doerfler, who rear-ended them, the lawsuit claimed.

A police report said both vehicles were stopped at a red light. Doerfler blamed the accident on a sneezing fit that caused his wet boot to slip off the brake pedal, according to the report. No one was ticketed.

The Zanghis say they suffered serious injuries in the accident.

Charlie Zanghi, now 72, said he suffered severe neck, back and shoulder pain; pinched nerves; and bulging discs in his spine. Shannon Zanghi, now 45, said she underwent several spinal surgeries, injections for lower back pain, abnormal skin sensations, pain in her neck and back, a bulging disc and other injuries.

The Zanghis, who live in Lockport, filed suit in March 2015.

They said initially they had just felt some neck pain but, after a couple of days, it got worse. The husband went to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, followed by treatment at a chiropractor, while the wife endured several surgeries.

Charlie Zanghi already had been out on disability since 1999 from his job as a cement mason due to abdominal surgery.

He also said the accident may have aggravated a preexisting shoulder issue, and it also kept him from riding his motorcycle and other activities he enjoyed, according to the suit.

Shannon Zanghi was using a cane at the time she gave a deposition in the case. She described missing country dancing, riding on her husband's motorcycle and playing with her grandchildren.

Charlie Zanghi fell while working in his yard in June 2014, several months after the accident, and had surgery on his right shoulder that October.

Then, in October 2017, the Zanghis say they were involved in another motor vehicle accident when the other vehicle ran a red light.

The town hired Michael J. Chmiel as its outside counsel and had its own doctor examine the Zanghis.

"We didn't believe they had suffered all those injuries, or that they were related to this accident," said Sliwa, the town attorney.

The case was ready for trial as of March 1 before State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin, court filings show.

Given the couple was seeking $2 million, Sliwa said, $225,000 was reasonable to settle the claims of both Zanghis. The Amherst Town Board approved the payment on Sept. 16.

Melissa A. Stadler, the Zanghis' attorney, was unavailable for comment.

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