Jury awards nearly $5.4 million to crash victim, wife

By Peter H. Milliken



An eight-member jury unanimously awarded nearly $5.4 million to a Poland couple who sued Grange Mutual Casualty Co. over an underinsured motorist claim.

The five-woman, three-man jury awarded $3,731,804 to William F. Ziegler, whose lawsuit said he suffered severe back injuries after the car he was driving was rear-ended by another car on U.S. Route 224 in Poland on May 4, 2004.

The jury also awarded $1,660,000 to Ziegler’s wife, Maria, on Tuesday at the end of a trial that began June 23 before visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Jurors deliberated about five hours.

The total award the jury assessed against Grange was $5,391,804.

At the time of the crash, the driver of the other car, Paul B. Downing of Poland, was an underinsured motorist driving an underinsured vehicle, the lawsuit said.

Ziegler, 58, was covered under his employer’s Grange policy, which provided up to $1 million in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, the suit said.

“Grange had a policy of insurance that provided compensation for any person occupying the insured vehicle who was injured by an underinsured motorist. Our claim was for underinsured motorist benefits under the Grange policy,” explained Ziegler’s lawyer, Martin F. White of Warren.

Grange’s lawyer, William Jack Meola, declined to comment after the verdict.

The Grange policy had been issued to Ziegler’s employer, Nannicola Wholesale Co., and its subsidiary, the Ink Factory Inc. Ziegler was injured while he drove a company-owned vehicle, White said.

“He has chronic and debilitating pain, is unemployable and takes powerful opiate medications for pain relief,” White said of Ziegler.

“We showed, I think, the devastating injuries that he suffered as a result of complications of his spine surgery and that the man was totally disabled, and we showed his pain and his agony and his inability to work, and the jury understood and compensated it for him fully,” White said.

The Zieglers had earlier settled with Downing’s insurance company.

Downing had only $25,000 in insurance coverage, White said.

The delay in bringing the case to trial was due in part to years of medical depositions from plaintiff’s and defense experts, he added.

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