SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 8, 2013

MBTA crash case goes to jury

Salem woman seeking more than $8M for injuries

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — The MBTA and the family of Samantha Mattei agree on one thing.

When a Green Line trolley operated by a T driver who was texting his girlfriend slammed into another subway on May 8, 2009, the Salem woman was injured and the MBTA was at fault.

The questions that have dominated a trial in Lawrence Superior Court for the last two weeks, and which are now in the hands of a jury, are how serious were Mattei’s injuries and how much compensation she deserves.

Lawyers for Mattei and for the MBTA made their closing arguments yesterday in the civil case, one of many lawsuits that came out of the highly publicized crash that injured dozens of people.

Mattei’s attorney, John DeSimone, requested that the jury award her $8.6 million for past and future medical expenses and for lost wages, plus an unspecified amount for pain and suffering and a “reduction of loss of enjoyment of life.”

DeSimone said Mattei, who is now 23, suffered a traumatic brain injury when she slammed head first into a metal handrail on the subway and then fell again and hit her head on the floor. As pictures of a bandaged Mattei and the accident scene played on a screen behind him, DeSimone said Mattei is one of the “miserable minority” of traumatic brain injury victims who will never make a full recovery.

DeSimone said Mattei has a high IQ and was a star chemistry student at Merrimack College. Now, he said, she has dropped out of college and needs constant care at home.

Mattei has spent time using a wheelchair and cane and suffers a variety of ill effects from post-concussion syndrome, including seizures, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, migraine headaches, and concentration problems, he said.

“What this accident has done is taken away her potential,” he said.

But the MBTA’s lawyer, John Bonistalli, argued that many of Mattei’s health problems pre-dated the trolley accident, and suggested she was avoiding treatment in order to enhance her court case.

Bonistalli said Mattei had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and panic attacks before the crash as well as a condition called somatoform disorder, which can cause bodily symptoms that can’t be traced to any physical cause.

Mattei complained only of headaches dizziness and nausea in the immediate aftermath of the accident and returned to school that September, he said.

“I suggest to you that it’s really over-reaching,” Bonistalli said of Mattei’s medical claims.

Mattei, who was not called to the stand during the trial, was not in the courtroom yesterday. Her parents and two representatives of the MBTA were the only spectators.

After the closing arguments and Judge James Lang’s jury instructions, the jury had only 45 minutes to deliberate before its day ended at 4 p.m. It will resume deliberations on Monday.

Unlike a criminal trial, the jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous. Twelve of 14 jurors must be in agreement on the amount of the award, if there is one, Lang told the panel.

Last year a jury awarded a Scituate woman $1.2 million in the first civil case from the accident to go to trial, a decision the MBTA planned to appeal.

A total of 24 lawsuits had been filed against the MBTA at the time. Nine of those had been settled for an average of $31,000, according to the agency.

Aiden Quinn, the driver, pleaded guilty to negligence in 2010 and was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.