LEDYARD, Conn. – A Massachusetts man who lost his leg in an accident at Foxwoods Resort Casino in 2006 received a $2.9 million award in what may be the largest personal injury claim ever negotiated in a tribal court.
Richard Murch, 69, of Tewksbury, Mass., and the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise agreed to settle the claim minutes before a trial was to begin in Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court in early August.
MPGE is the business arm of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut. Tribal officials said it was their largest settlement.
New London attorney M. John Strafaci, who represented Murch, said it may be the largest settlement in any tribal court.
Strafaci said his client was happy with the settlement.
“Once the settlement was announced to Mr. Murch, once we told him we had reached a number that would provide him and his family with future security, he had a big smile on his face and his family said it was the first time they’d seen him smile like that since the accident. It was just a giant weight taken off his shoulders, knowing he could pay his bills and the family could have some security,” Strafaci said.
The accident occurred Nov. 20, 2006, when Murch and his wife Carolyn arrived at Foxwoods Grand Pequot Hotel where they planned to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.
According to court documents, Murch was at the rear of his car getting things out of the trunk when a runaway car crashed into him. The car had been started by a valet who reached into the car to turn on the ignition to lower the windows. The car had a standard transmission and was in first gear, and the parking brake was not engaged.
“Although her intent was only to turn the key to accessory position to lower the windows, she turned it to the ‘start’ position and according to (the valet) the engine started and the car ‘took off,’” the court record states.
The car struck Murch, who was standing with his back toward the oncoming vehicle, and crushed him against his Chrysler, which was in park. The impact propelled the car 15 to 20 feet forward, knocked Murch to the pavement, and the runaway car rolled over him, pinning him underneath. Foxwoods employees rushed to lift the vehicle off him, the court record says.
The lawsuit claimed that liability was premised on MPGE’s negligence “to properly train, supervise and establish work rules prohibiting the procedure of reaching into cars to turn ignition keys while standing outside them.”
Murch’s leg was crushed and he suffered chest injuries. After a number of leg operations, doctors determined they could not save the leg and it was amputated above the knee, Strafaci said.
After almost three years, Murch has made a lot of progress in learning to use a computerized prosthetic leg, he said.
The settlement will allow Murch to reimburse Medicare for some of the huge medical bills it covered, and will also allow him to renovate his home and summer cottage in Maine to be handicap accessible. It will also provide for future medical expenses as prosthetic technology improves, Strafaci said.
“Mr. Murch enjoys boating and outdoor activities and now he’s going to get a prosthetic that will allow him to wade in the water for his board.”
The negotiation process was “long and arduous,” Strafaci said.
“Our negotiations were directly with Liberty Mutual, the tribe’s insurance company. The tribe has insurance for any accident that exceeds $100,000, so they certainly had sufficient coverage.”
But the tribe has a system for tort injuries that places a cap on the amount an injured patron or anyone in the casino can collect.
“It’s a mathematical formula and it provides that pain and suffering compensation won’t exceed more than 100 percent of past and future medical expenses, lost wages and other expenses. So the big time consuming process was in documenting what all of his expenses were down to a bottle of Advil for the rest of his life,” Strafaci said.
Murch hired a team of experts, including a life care planner, a rehabilitation pain and management specialist, and prosthetics expert to prepare an estimate of his expenses.
The MPGE also hired its own team of experts to prepare an estimate.
The estimate of future medical expenses became crucially important because it affected the award for pain and suffering compensation, Strafaci said.
“Ultimately, the negotiations came down to a few minutes before the trial was to start. Mr. Murch was getting ready to take the witness stand and the judge was about to come out and start the trial when at the last minute the negotiations between myself and Liberty Mutual resulted in the settlement.”
Both sides believed the settlement was fair.
“We feel this is a fair settlement for Mr. Murch’s severe and unfortunate injuries and hope that it serves as some consolation for his loss,” said Jackson T. King, general counsel for Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.
“My client thinks the settlement was fair and I think the award he received is probably comparable to what he would have received from any other company or resort in Connecticut that wasn’t tribally owned,” Strafaci said.
He was brought into the case when attorneys Murch hired learned they needed to be licensed to practice tribal law in a tribal court.
“I’ve been representing people in tribal court at Mashantucket and Mohegan for more than 10 years now.”