By Richard L. Gaw
Hockessin residents Paula A. Sharpe and George A. Pigford have filed a personal injury lawsuit against Kennett Township and its Police Chief Albert McCarthy, stemming from an Oct. 4, 2011 rear-end collision between Sharpe's vehicle - a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee -- and the Kennett Township Police car driven by McCarthy, on Creek Road, just south of McFarlan Road.
The lawsuit, filed by Kennett Square attorney George S. Donze on Sept. 4, alleges negligence and carelessness on the part of McCarthy that led to Sharpe receiving serious personal injuries in the crash, which include acute post-traumatic lumbar spine sprain, as well as other medical problems resulting from the collision. Pigford, Sharpe's husband, is alleging a loss of consortium as a result of his wife's injuries. Together, Sharpe and Pigford are seeking a sum in excess of $50,000.
According to Donze, the lawsuit was filed after settlement talks between the parties failed. He said that his firm has been submitting the medical records from Ms. Sharpe on behalf of her insurance company to the insurance carrier for the township for the past two years, and at no time during that period did the township make a settlement offer in order to avoid suit.
"The statute of limitations was about to expire, and we felt compelled to file the suit," Donze said. "Ms. Sharpe's insurance company has the right to recoup the funds that they have paid out."
Court rules established by Chester County require a suit to place a $50,000 minimum sum in its wording -- a general line of demarcation, Donze said -- but it is anticipated that Sharpe and Pigford are seeking damages well in excess of $50,000.
In Count 1 of the lawsuit, Paula A. Sharpe v. Albert McCarthy, the damages sustained by Sharpe were caused by McCarthy's "negligence and carelessness," which consisted of failing to have his vehicle under proper and adequate control; operating his vehicle at a high, excessive rate of speed, and without keeping a proper look out for road and traffic conditions; operating his vehicle without regard for the right, safety and position of Sharpe's vehicle; failing to sound his horn or give adequate warning of the approach of his vehicle; operating a motor vehicle without full-knowledge of a pre-existing medical condition that could affect his ability to safely operate it; as well as other points of negligence.
In Count II of the lawsuit, Paula A. Sharpe v. Kennett Township, the plaintiff accused the township of allowing McCarthy to operate a motor vehicle when it knew "or in the exercise of reasonable diligence," it should have known of McCarthy's pre-existing medical condition.
In Count III of the lawsuit, Pigford vs. All Defendants, Pigford claimed that as a result of Sharpe's injuries, he has been denied the society, care, companionship, services and consortium of Sharpe.
Saying that he was upset that "this happened to the township," McCarthy addressed a group of 50 local citizens at a township board of supervisors meeting two weeks after the incident. There, he carefully explained the course of the accident, including his admission that he had suffered a brief blackout due to a medical condition, caused by what his neurosurgeon diagnosed as an "absence seizure" which, according to scientific description, is categorized by brief (usually less than 20 seconds) generalized epileptic seizures that occur suddenly and impair consciousness.
That morning, McCarthy said that he left the Township building in a Kennett Township Police patrol car, a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, after a meeting on his way home to retrieve documents. When he approached Mcfarlan Road at about 12:30 p.m., traveling southbound, he said he noticed Sharpe's Jeep pass in front of his vehicle. "I followed it, noting that it had Delaware tags, and that's the last thing I remember," McCarthy said. "I remember driving over Marshall's Bridge on my way home, a distance of two miles."
When he arrived at home, McCarthy said that he noticed his portable radio was not working, and placed it on the windowsill in his kitchen in order to revive reception. He then looked out of the window and noticed that his police vehicle had been damaged. While he was examining his car, McCarthy said he received a phone call from the Chester County Police Dispatch.
"They asked me if I was all right," McCarthy told the audience. "He (The officer) then said there was an accident on Creek Road that involved a police car. I'm looking down (at the police vehicle) and I really can't understand what happened, so I called the state police and told him that I need to investigate this."
McCarthy said that when he arrived back at the crash scene, he saw members of the state police, as well as representatives from the Kennett and East Marlborough Township police and the Kennett Fire Company. "I was now very confused," McCarthy said. "When I asked a police chief what had happened, he said that I had hit the black SUV jeep." McCarthy complied with the subsequent police investigation, and no charges against him were filed.
According to McCarthy, he had to notify the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) about the incident, who told him that they would suspend his license for up to six months, as well as monitor his progress for the next three to six months. McCarthy was placed on administrative leave from his position, and confined to desk duty which includes enforcing local laws such as nuisance, international housing and event ordinances.
McCarthy told the audience he traced the cause of the car accident to August 2008, when he severely damaged his head when constructing a food bank location in Kennett Square. "I slammed my head into a steel i-beam, then went home and took a few aspirin," McCarthy said. "The following night, 27 hours after the incident, I had some kind of an attack in my sleep. I had no idea what was going on there, either, and I was told that they could not wake me up."
After the 2008 accident, McCarthy underwent a series of several tests, which at first he said revealed little in the way of damage but later detected the presence of a mark on the brain. During a subsequent 24-hour examination at the Christiana Hospital, McCarthy said a neurosurgeon prescribed medication for him, and continued to monitor the effects of the drug for the next six months.
"This is indicated by not having any perception of what's going on around you, and you can't respond," McCarthy said. "That's probably what happened here because I don't have any recollection of passing out."
The township has enlisted the West Chester law firm of Gawthrop, Greenwood and Adams as its legal counsel. Robert Adams of the firm serves as the township's solicitor. Township Manager Lisa Moore said that she is waiting for legal counsel before commenting on the lawsuit. Chief McCarthy could not be reached for comment. Adams also denied comment on the litigation.
The lawsuit stated that it demands a jury trial. The date of the trial has not yet been determined; under Chester County Court procedures, a case is automatically certified as ready for trial one year after it is filed. The exact date of the hearing will be up to the discretion of the judge assigned to the case.