Insurer to pay $300,000 in scared-to-death dispute

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - An insurance company has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of an 85-year-old man, ending an unusual dispute over whether the driver may have been literally scared to death before his car slammed into a tractor-trailer in suburban Detroit, court records show.

Lawyers for the man's family got an opinion from a noted forensic pathologist, who said Abdulla Kassem's fatal heart condition could have been caused by a "fear of impending doom," just moments before the 2008 crash in Dearborn.

"It's raining. It's bad lighting," Dr. Werner Spitz testified. "He doesn't see the truck. The truck is not visible. He comes to within inches of the back of the vehicle and suddenly - boom - he hits."

Kassem's estate sued the trucking company, Efficient Hauling Services, and the driver, saying the truck's rear lights weren't visible.

The company's attorney, Dan Fleming, vigorously challenged Spitz' opinion as guesswork. Kassem's personal doctor, Dearborn police and a cardiologist all said it was impossible to know when Kassem suffered the fatal heart event or what caused it.

"He's propounding some rather silly ... speculative opinion," Dr. Eldred Zobl, a cardiologist who testified for the trucking company, said of Spitz.

There was no autopsy, although Kassem had heart disease. The cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia.

A Wayne County judge had disallowed Spitz' testimony and dismissed the lawsuit. But the Michigan appeals court reversed that decision last year.

The trucking company then asked the Michigan Supreme Court to intervene. The settlement by the company's insurer, however, takes the case off the docket. It's uncertain whether the court would have accepted an appeal.

Judge Kathleen Macdonald has scheduled a June 12 hearing to approve the $300,000 settlement. It's the same amount that was recommended by a panel of evaluators earlier in the litigation.

Published: Fri, May 29, 2015