Ever since a 1986 car accident left him with back problems, RichardNapolitano has wanted to get on with his life.
And this week, a Circuit Court jury allowed him to do that. The jury on Wednesday awarded the permanently injured 25-year-old man $325,000 and told him the accident was not his fault.
Napolitano sued the other driver, William Powell of New Port Richey, after Powell rear-ended the car he was driving on State Road 54 on April 28, 1986.
That morning, about 4:30, there was a muck fire near the road, and the driver in front of Napolitano slowed to a stop. Napolitano did the same, but Powell, who was directly behind Napolitano, did not, said Napolitano's attorney, Mac Greco of Tampa.
"It was a pretty bad accident," Greco said. "He (Napolitano) has had back problems ever since. He's still under the care of an orthopedic surgeon and needs more rehabilitation and counseling."
Napolitano, who was 21 when the accident occurred, said it kept him from a possible athletic career, and at the very least, it kept him from working a full-time job.
"I used to be an athlete - I had it all going for me before this
accident," said Napolitano, who lives in Tampa. "Now I'm just trying to get my life back together."
The money will help him do that, but it won't bring his health back, he said.
"Money isn't everything. Health is the main thing," he said. "I could be dead and have $1-million - what would it matter? I was a perfect man before this."
According to the complaint filed in 1988, Napolitano suffered injuries that caused permanent disability, disfigurement, mental anguish and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life.
The complaint also said he lost the ability to earn money.
Napolitano said that even if he never made a career in sports, he at least would have been able to work in his family's Italian restaurant.
"He wasn't earning a lot at the time, and he didn't finish high school," Greco said. "He doesn't have the highest IQ and the kind of work he would do best, he needs a strong back. This accident made it more difficult to make money.
"He's not totally disabled; he can work for a couple of hours," Greco said. "But he can't work much longer than that now."
According to court records, Powell thought the accident was the fault of the driver in front of Napolitano. Powell and his attorney were unable to be reached for comment.
The jury decided Powell was 100-percent negligent. Greco said the defense also tried to prove that Napolitano was not hurt that badly, and that he probably could work if he wanted to.
Napolitano said he didn't want to go through the lengthy court process, but it was the only way he could prove he was wronged.