Rear-Ended Plaintiff Loses Bid For Damages

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Shaquan Whitfield v. Beth Rosen: It took just 10 minutes for a New Haven jury to return a defense verdict in the case of a woman who claimed back and neck injuries after her vehicle was hit from behind while making a turn.

Shaquan Whitfield, 24, was traveling down Whalley Avenue in New Haven on April 28, 2011. But exactly what happened next is unclear, as the plaintiff and defendant offered differing versions of events.

Whitfield, who lives in New Haven, claims she was rear-ended while attempting a left turn into a parking lot by a vehicle driven by Beth Rosen, 56, also of New Haven.

But Rosen, who was shaken up in the crash and not seriously injured, claimed Whitfield caused the accident.

Brian Candela of Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford, who represented Rosen, said his client was "cut off" by Whitfield.

Rosen, Candela said, "was adamant the accident took place in her lane of travel and not while [Whitfield] was partially entering into the parking lot."

Candela said his client could not swerve to avoid the collision due to other traffic concerns.

Whitfield's two younger brothers, around 7 and 10 years old, were in the vehicle with her, according to Candela. He said that at the scene Whitfield was more concerned about their well-being than her own. As it turned out, the boys just had some minor aches and pains that soon went away.

But Whitfield claimed she began to develop neck and lower back pain. On May 1, 2011, she went to the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven and was diagnosed with cervical and lumbar strains. She soon began chiropractic treatments at Whalley Chiropractic & Therapy, which continued until September 2011.

Chiropractor John Young opined that Whitfield had an increased chance of degenerative disc disease in her back and assessed her with a 5 percent permanent partial disability rating. The chiropractor also estimated that Whitfield would need $1,200 to $2,500 worth of annual treatments for the rest of her life.

Whitfield filed a negligence lawsuit through her attorney, Vanessa Wambolt of New Haven, who did not return calls for comment.

Candela said the plaintiff initially sought damages for future medical bills in the neighborhood of $60,000 to $125,000. The defense, however, was not interested in settling.

As the trial date drew nearer, Candela said the plaintiff offered to settle for $27,500. On the day of the trial, that number dropped to $15,000. And at the start of jury selection the amount dwindled to $7,000. At that point, Candela was ready to try the case.

"We contested liability, obviously, but we also contested some of her testimony concerning how badly she was hurt and the lack of treatment she received over the past two years leading up to the time of trial," Candela said. "We didn't say she wasn't hurt. But our position [with the jury was], 'She wasn't as hurt as she's telling you.'"

Candela said the two sides agreed to a box, or group, voir dire, where prospective jurors sit together to answer questions from the lawyers. Most trials in Connecticut use individual voir dire. The expedited system limited jury selection to just half a day.

Testimony before New Haven Superior Court Judge Matthew Frechette took another half day. Whitfield, one of her younger brothers, and Rosen testified. The jury deliberated for just 10 minutes before siding with Rosen. When the jurors returned so quickly, Candela at first "thought they were actually coming back with a question."

Though neither Candela nor the judge spoke to jurors after the trial, the assumption was that the quick decision meant the panel must have decided that Rosen was not at fault. Thus, the jurors didn't even have to consider the severity of Whitfield's injuries.•

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