Jury Awards Woman $189,000 for Pre-wedding Crash

Author(s): James F. McCarty Plain Dealer Reporter Date: July 29, 2006 Section: Metro

Three years after Kimberly Neal was married, she received a wedding gift: a jury award this week of nearly $189,000. Neal was running last-minute errands in March 2003, the day before she was scheduled to wed Barry Pettit and three days before his Army Reserve unit was to ship out for Iraq.

The flowers and her wedding dress were in the back seat when the 33- year-old nurse drove onto Interstate 77 in Newburgh Heights and her car was hit from behind by another car.

The crash sent both vehicles spinning and crashing into guardrails. According to Neal, as she approached the other car to check the

condition of the driver, the woman, Linda Lahman, 38, of Parma, was reeking of alcohol and uttered, "I wish I were dead."

Lahman told police she had taken a large dose of antidepressants, was so impaired she could barely see and had lost her way home.

The wedding in Watertown, N.Y., went on as planned, but the one-night honeymoon in Syracuse had to be canceled as Neal recovered from a herniated disc, sprains and strains in her back and neck, and a cut on her head. Her medical bills totaled $12,000.

Neal, who lives in Parma, sued Lahman in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

After a three-day trial, a jury on Thursday ordered Lahman to pay Neal $113,800 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. Lahman also must pay the fees of Craig Bashein, Neal's lawyer. Bashein did not know the exact amount but said they would be "significant."

"It was very important to Kim that the verdict send a message to this defendant and the community that this type of drunken driving, drug use and recklessness is highly dangerous, "Bashein said.

Lahman apologized to Neal from the witness stand. Her lawyer,

Terrence Kenneally, challenged Neal's claim that her back injury was caused by the accident and not an earlier mishap.

"When you cut through the wedding aspects of the case, the real issue was whether the accident caused her herniated disc," Kenneally said.

He was unsure if Lahman would appeal the verdict.