Nine years later, crash victims still seek lawsuit

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The fiery 20-vehicle pile-up that would claim the lives of five people and injure 23 occurred nine years ago July when a truck with faulty brakes careened down the steep 10 percent grade of Avon Mountain Road into the intersection below.

Forty-four-year-old Michael Cummings was at the lead of the line of cars struck by the truck. He was severely injured but survived.

“I suffer from post traumatic … and high impact dreams and so it’s difficult even to talk about,” Cummings said.

A Superior Court judge ruled that Cummings and the widow of “Chip” Stotler, a young father among those killed, had the right to sue the state Department of Transportation because the design of the road was flawed – and they knew it.

“Ellen Stotler, on behalf of her husband ‘Chip’ and her family, strongly believe that Avon Mountain was a defective roadway until they finally put the runaway truck ramp in,” said Joel Faxon, the attorney for the Stotler estate.

In 2008, the DOT re-aligned the roadway and added the runaway truck ramp after a second runaway truck crashed into a furniture store. A decades-old report had recommended the ramp years before the crashes.

The lawyers for Cummings and the Stotler estate say this is practically an admission of guilt, but the Appellate Court through the case out.

That’s why it ended up before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The owner of the faulty truck is still in prison, his wife on parole. The DOT says they are to blame for allowing a truck with faulty brakes on the road.

“The state has tried time and time again to avoid a day in court,” said Cummings’ attorney, T.J. Donohue.

“It’s nine years later and I’m still paying thousands of dollars a year in dental bills and therapy bills,” Cummings said.

What Cummings and Stotler’s widow are asking for is what the trial judge said they deserved: a jury trial to try to prove their case that the DOT knew in advance that Avon Mountain Road was a disaster waiting to happen.

The high court is expected to rule on the case later this year.

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