standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — A lawsuit stemming from a 2017 motor vehicle collision involving a Westerly police officer and a town resident appears headed for trial now that town officials have rejected an arbitration award in the case.

The arbitrator, William A Filippo, a lawyer from Providence, determined the town should pay $49,500 to James Crowley, the resident, for the case. Filippo also determined that Crowley and Westerly Police Detective David Turano shared culpability for the June 24, 2017, collision. Crowley was 55% negligent in the case and Turano was 45% negligent, according to Filippo's findings, which were described in an arbitration decision that was submitted to Washington County Superior Court on March 23.

Crowley, who was 79 at the time of the accident, was traveling east on Shore Road at about 6 p.m. and intended to turn left onto Newbury Road. Turano was traveling west on Shore Road in a marked police cruiser. According to Filippo's decision document, Crowley came to a stop before starting to make the turn. He made the turn with a 500-foot sight line and engaged in "emergency acceleration" prior to the impact with Turano's cruiser. Turano was found to have been traveling at 62 mph, in excess of the posted speed limit of 35 mph, on the road. Turano had the right of way and engaged in emergency braking before the collision, according to Filippo's document.

Filippo's description of the accident is based on a report from the state police Collision Reconstruction Unit that investigated the accident. The unit routinely investigates accidents involving members of local police departments to prevent officers from having to investigate other officers from their own department.

"[Crowley] left a position of safety on the roadway and failed to observe [Turano's] vehicle before turning into its path," according to the report, which also concludes that if Turano had been traveling the speed limit, he could have braked in time to avoid hitting Crowley. Therefore both parties were negligent," Filippo wrote in his decision.

Crowley was knocked unconscious by the collision and sustained significant bruising, a fractured clavicle and a shoulder injury. The lawsuit lists several other significant injuries. Crowley testified credibly, Filippo wrote, that he suffered ongoing pain following the collision. There was no medical evidence to support Crowley's claim that he also suffered from memory loss and cognitive issues resulting from the collision, Filippo wrote.

According to the lawsuit, Crowley was taken by ambulance to the Rhode Island Hospital, where he remained for three days. He was discharged from the hospital in order to attend his wife’s funeral and was then admitted for inpatient care, for about 12 days, at a local medical rehabilitation facility. Crowley's wife was not a passenger in his car at the time of the accident.

Filippo's initial award to Crowley was for medical bills of nearly $50,000 and an additional $60,000 for "the trauma of the event, its immediate consequences and past and present pain and suffering." Crowley's overall damages were reduced because of his shared negligence, Filippo wrote.

William J. Conley Jr., the town's lawyer, submitted a rejection of award document in Washington Superior Court on April 22. Dennis S. Baluch, Crowley's lawyer, filed a motion the next day seeking a rapidly scheduled jury trial based on Crowley's age. He is now 81.

The Westerly Town Council discussed the case on April 27 during a private executive session and voted unanimously to "continue" the case, according to Christopher Duhamel, council president.

Conley and Baluch did not return messages seeking comment for this article.

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