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Crash victim could only receive fraction of $3.1M verdict

A Prince Frederick woman won a $3.1 million verdict last week following a car accident that left her severely injured, but she likely will not receive more than $50,000.

An off-duty police officer hit Carlisa Kent, 45, in 2008 while driving a rental car secured by the Prince George’s County Police Department for a team of undercover narcotics officers. The county insured the vehicle for the state statutory minimum — $20,000 at the time — and Kent’s only other source of insurance money is her underinsured motorist coverage, which will get her another $30,000.

“I think the county should insure all the vehicles they lease well beyond the state minimums,” said Kent’s lawyer, Bruce Plaxen, a name partner with Plaxen & Adler P.A. in Columbia.

He noted that as of Jan. 1, the law changed to increase the coverage minimum to $30,000. It’s the first increase the General Assembly has approved since 1972.

Alternatively, Plaxen said, the county should not allow officers to drive county vehicles for personal business. If the officer had been driving for work purposes, the accident would have invoked the Local Government Tort Claims Act, which has a liability limit of $200,000.

“The reality is that the police officers will use the vehicles for personal use, so they should be insured,” Plaxen said.

Most of Kent’s nearly $400,000 in medical bills were covered by her personal health insurance.

Plaxen said he is negotiating with her former insurer, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which is entitled to recover the money it paid out under subrogation laws. CareFirst could take the $50,000, he said, leaving Kent with nothing.

A Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury awarded Kent $3,091,291.67 to cover her injuries and other damages. The state’s statutory cap on non-economic damages will reduce the verdict to $2.05 million.

The accident happened in Calvert County when Robert Edward Lee, an officer in the narcotics division in Prince George’s County Police Department hit the car in front of him and then veered into oncoming traffic and hit Kent.

Neither remembers the accident, according to their lawyers. Both had serious injuries, but Lee was able to return to work, while Kent, who previously served as a grief counselor and made about $32,000 a year, has not been able to resume work.

Kent had surgery on both knees and suffered dislocations and fractures in her right foot, a fractured left hip and multiple pelvic fractures. She spent three months in the hospital.

She spent two months in a wheelchair and can now walk with the assistance of a cane. Kent’s attorney said he expects she will never return to work.

Lee’s attorney, Daniel Karp, a name attorney with Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp P.A. in Baltimore, called it a “terrible case all the way around.”

When asked if Kent could try to go after the officer directly for the money, Karp said Kent would probably not receive anything from Lee.

“He is, like most of us, sort of living paycheck to paycheck,” Karp said. While he could not predict his client’s actions, he added, Lee “can file bankruptcy and she’ll have no more now than she did beforehand.”

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