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$22.5 Million Award Biggest In Connecticut For Wrongful Death

by Lynne Tuohy
The Hartford Courant

October 4, 2007

BRIDGEPORT — The widow of a Stamford truck driver nearly a decade ago offered to settle her wrongful death lawsuit against an area doctor for $1 million. The insurance company rejected that offer and refused to counter.

Wednesday, a Bridgeport jury returned a $22.5 million verdict in favor of Vita Carlson and the estate of her late husband, Gary Carlson, who died of a massive heart attack in 1994. The verdict is believed to be the largest ever in a Connecticut wrongful death case.

Ironically, it was the second massive verdict that Vita Carlson and her husband's estate won against Dr. Robert Goldsmith, of the now-defunct Stamford Medical Group, in the same case. A jury in 2003 awarded Carlson and the estate $10 million, but that verdict was reversed by the state Supreme Court last year because the jury had not been allowed to consider whether a second doctor was partly at fault.

This time around, the jury was presented evidence that a second doctor, Joseph Bizzozero, was partly at fault for failing to diagnose the 90-percent blockage in one of Carlson's arteries. But the jury held Goldsmith largely to blame, assessing him for 75 percent of the verdict and Bizzozero for 25 percent. That leaves Goldsmith and his insurer - Connecticut Medical Insurance Co. - liable for $16.9 million, substantially more than the first verdict.

Joshua Koskoff, attorney for Vita Carlson and the estate, said it's exasperating that insurance companies won't settle even the strongest cases.

"You try to take a case like this and bring peace to your clients quickly, and it's frustrating that that doesn't often work out and they have to go through this," Koskoff said. "Even on good cases like this, insurance companies basically say, `Prove it.' And they put the burden on someone like Mrs. Carlson to prove it, not only once in this case, but twice."

The jury deliberated about six hours, after the close of the two-week trial, before returning its verdict. Because Bizzozero settled the claims against him years ago, unbeknown to the jury, his portion of the verdict will not be enforced.

Carlson at age 49 went to Goldsmith complaining of severe chest pains. A cardiogram performed on him in a resting position showed abnormalities in his heart. Goldsmith told him he probably had gastritis, gave him an antacid and sent him on his way. Carlson died two months later, while recovering from hip replacement surgery.

At the time of his death, Carlson was five years from retiring with a full pension. He and Vita had bought a condominium in Florida, in the same complex where a number of their friends had purchased, and planned to spend part of their retirement there.

The jury awarded $11 million to Carlson's estate, including three adult daughters, and $11.5 million to Vita Carlson for loss of her husband's companionship.