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Stamford jury awards $15M to I-95 truck-crash survivor

John NickersonMay 24, 2019

STAMFORD — In what may be the biggest auto collision verdict in state history, a Stamford jury this week awarded $15 million to a Pennsylvania man who was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler while sitting in traffic on Interstate 95 in Westport in 2014.

“We are very happy with the verdict,” said Brenden Leydon, who represented Keystone State resident and Dominican Republic native Jorge Amparo following a three-week trial at the Stamford courthouse. “I think it sends a message to truck drivers out there to be more careful and it says to the trucking companies to better train and supervise their employees.”

Truck driver Jose Ayala’s attorney Gary Kaisen declined to comment Thursday morning, saying only, “We are in the process of determining our next steps.”

Amparo, 50, was driving home to Allentown, Pennsylvania in his 1993 Mitsubishi in the early evening of Aug. 6, 2014 when he stopped with the rest of traffic in the right lane in a steady rain.

There on the bridge over the Saugatuck River just before Exit 17, Jose Ayala, 48, was driving a 80,000-pound semitractor-trailer for the Evans Delivery Company in the center lane. But Ayala did not see the traffic coming to a halt until it was too late and swerved into the left lane, Amparo’s lawsuit said.

Although he did not say it to police at the time, Ayala eventually reported that a car was about to hit him and he swerved to avoid the collision.

“He crashes into the back of Jorge Amparo’s car. Hard. Mr. Amparo’s car is pushed into the car in from of him, his car is totaled, the truck is totaled,” Leydon said during his opening statement when the trial began on April 23. “Mr. Amparo’s seat actually breaks, collapsing backwards. He ends up having to be extricated from the back of the vehicle with the Jaws of Life.”

Attorney Nick Wocl, who presented the jury with medical evidence, said Amparo suffered an extruded disc and, even after surgery, needs a walker to get around. He said that nerve damage has resulted in his left leg being numb, weak and in pain. As a result, the former recreational soccer player and former lifeguard can can no longer dress himself without his wife’s help.

Amparo was born, raised and went to college in the Dominican Republic, became an accountant and left home for a better life for his kids, Wocl said. At a water treatment plant in Allentown, where he ran a fork lift, he was voted Employee of the Year in 2012 and was only one of two employees from that plant to be transferred to Bridgeport after the Pennsylvania site was shuttered.

Because his daughter was going to a Catholic high school in Allentown, he decided not to uproot his family and was doing the last leg of his 310-mile daily commute when he was struck by the truck, Wocl said.

“He is a great man. The work ethic of this man was unbelievable,” Wocl said. As a result of post-concussion syndrome, Amparo, who was making about $70,000 per year, sometimes gets dizzy, nauseous and can feel light headed and vomit at any time. Wocl said he testified with a baggie in his hand, worried he might get sick on the stand.

After finding that Ayala and his trucking company failed to use reasonable care, was negligent and operated the tractor with reckless disregard for the rights of others, the jury awarded Amparo $302,000 to pay for his medical bills, $311,000 for past economic damages like lost wages and $1,921,000 in future economic damages. The verdict, which took the jury a week to agree upon, also gave him $11,738,000 in non-economic damages, bringing his total compensation to $14,272,000.

Additionally, his wife Diva Amparo was awarded $727,500 in a loss of consortium, or the right of association and companionship with one’s husband or wife.

While many think that the loss of consortium only has to do with sex, Wocl said it encompasses the entire relationship, although sexual relations are a thing of the past for the couple. Now, Wocl said, Amparo has to rely on his wife to shovel the snow and help him put on his pants and socks and the two haven’t gone out to dinner on a date since the accident.

“A terrible thing happened to a very good man and it is so gratifying that justice was served,” Wocl said. “A jury heard him and they could see into the soul of the man. They gave him full and complete justice.”

jnickerson@stamfordadvocate.com

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