EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 11, 2013

Family 'shocked' by MBTA trolley case award

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — A jury yesterday awarded a former Merrimack College student less than $500,000 for injuries sustained in a Green Line trolley accident, a fraction of the more than $8.6 million that her attorneys had requested on her behalf.

The 14-person jury in Lawrence Superior Court awarded Samantha Mattei of Salem, Mass., a total of $461,902 in compensation for the May 8, 2009, crash.

Fred Mattei, Samantha’s father, said he and his family were “shocked and disappointed” by the award. He said the money is not even enough to pay for outstanding medical bills and lawyer’s fees, never mind the medical expenses that he said his 23-year-old daughter will incur for the rest of her life.

“Basically, it comes to absolutely nothing once all expenses are paid,” he said. “There’s nothing for her treatment. It’s a negative number.”

Samantha Mattei’s lawyers argued during the two-week civil trial that the crash left her with a traumatic brain injury and robbed her of a bright future.

The once-promising chemistry student at Merrimack dropped out of school and will need care for the rest of her life, her attorneys said. They said she suffers from seizures, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, migraine headaches and concentration problems and has at times used a wheelchair and cane.

The MBTA acknowledged that the accident was caused by a trolley driver who was texting his girlfriend and agreed that it was liable for injuries caused by the crash.

But the T’s lawyer said that many of Mattei’s medical problems predated the accident.

Attorney John 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.

In a statement, the MBTA thanked the jury for its “careful consideration of all the evidence and testimony in this case.”

“We believe the jurors’ decision was a fair and just one,” the statement said.

Last year, a jury awarded a Scituate woman $1.2 million in the first civil case from the accident to go to trial. At least 24 lawsuits have been filed against the MBTA in the highly publicized crash. Nine of the cases have been settled for an average of $31,000, according to the agency.

Mattei’s lawyer, John DeSimone, had asked the jury to award $8.6 million for past and future medical expenses and for lost wages, plus an unspecified amount for pain and suffering and a “reduction in the loss of enjoyment of life.”

Fred Mattei said he has no idea how the jury arrived at the $461,902 figure. He said there is no right of appeal in the case.

Samantha Mattei was not called to testify during the trial and was not in court yesterday. Fred Mattei said that she was “obviously disappointed” when he and his wife informed her of the jury’s decision.

Mattei, a real estate agent, said he and his wife have been paying for home care for their daughter so they could go to work during the day. Now, he said, he’s not sure what will happen.

“We don’t have any funds for that,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can.”

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