Man who lost children in crash sued Four others injured seek $15 million


It's been nearly two years since Russell M. Corbett's role a father and husband ended on a rain-soaked Carroll County highway when his three young children were killed in an accident while he was at the wheel.

But yesterday it was July 7, 1991, all over again when he was RTC served at his Silver Run home with a $15 million lawsuit filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court last month by four other people severely injured in the accident.

The lawsuit is the second filed against him and his employer, Healthco International Inc., in the accident. His estranged wife, Betty Lou Corbett of Westminster, filed a $3 million negligence claim in Carroll Circuit Court in March.

Healthco, in Owings Mills, is a distributor of dental office equipment. The company provided Mr. Corbett with the car he was driving at the time of the accident.

The two lawsuits have overwhelmed the 28-year-old, who will be recuperating from accident-related surgery at home for the next six weeks.

"I am the one who lost more than anyone else," Mr. Corbett said yesterday. He declined to comment further on the lawsuits -- or his divorce filing last week -- on the advice of his lawyer.

Mr. and Mrs. Corbett, their three children and a 15-year-old baby-sitter were on their way to a birthday party when their Ford Taurus station wagon crossed the center line of Route 97 near Silver Run and struck a Jeep Cherokee head-on.

The children -- Jacqueline Michelle Corbett, 5; Russell Michael Corbett Jr., 3; and Loren Cassidy Corbett, 1 1/2 -- were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. and Mrs. Corbett were seriously injured and required extensive surgery and months of hospitalization. He was sent to Washington County General Hospital, his wife to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Like the Corbetts, Kathy Posedenti of Pikesville -- the couple's baby-sitter -- wasn't wearing a seat belt. She suffered extensive injuries to her arms, legs and spine.

Peter Levine, a Reisterstown chiropractor who was driving the Jeep, was seriously injured and was sent to Washington County General. A passenger in the Jeep, Erika Balogh, a 23-year-old medical student from Westminster, was sent to Shock Trauma for extensive back surgery. Another passenger, Oren Goldberg of Baltimore, was hospitalized with serious head, leg and internal injuries.

The baby-sitter, her mother and the Jeep's occupants filed the $15 million lawsuit last month against Mr. Corbett, Healthco and the owners of the Taurus, claiming they shared responsibility.

In the 10-count lawsuit, the plaintiffs say Mr. Corbett "was a person likely to use a motor vehicle in a manner involving unreasonable risk." The suit calls Mr. Corbett's driving record "abysmal" and says Healthco should not have provided him with a car.

A copy of Mr. Corbett's driving record shows several speeding and traffic violations. At the time of the accident, his drivers license was suspended because of his failure to appear in District Court on unrelated traffic violations.

His license was reinstated 11 days after the accident, according to the driving record.

The lawsuit says Mr. Corbett and Healthco were "careless, reckless and negligent."

A Sept. 6, 1991 state police report of the accident concluded, "Worn tires on a wet road surface was the primary reason for the occurrence of this accident. Also, the nonuse or improper use of occupant safety devices and an unsecured load contributed and in some incidences increased the severity of the injuries."

"Peter's life is never going to be the same," said Steven D. Wyman, a Towson attorney who represents Mr. Levine and Ms. Balogh. "He can't do much of anything he used to do."

Ms. Balogh, now a medical student in Hungary, continues to suffer back pain, Mr. Wyman said. "She's shown miraculous will power to continue living," the attorney said.

Mr. Goldberg's attorney said his client has yet to resume his pre-crash life.

"He's going through emotional trauma," said the attorney, R. Richard Donadio. "This has had a significant impact on his life."

Robert Earl Wilson, the attorney for Ms. Posedenti and her mother, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Jo Anna Schmidt, Mr. Corbett's attorney, declined to discuss either suit against her client.

"At this point, I don't want to litigate this case in the media," she said. "This has been a personal tragedy."

She said she had not seen the Baltimore County lawsuit.

But in an answer filed last week to the Betty Lou Corbett suit, Ms. Schmidt asked the court to dismiss it. That motion says Mrs. Corbett was barred from suing her estranged husband because "her injuries . . . were caused by her own contributory negligence" and that there is a "general rule refusing to allow actions" between minor children -- or their representatives -- and parents.

Ms. Schmidt said yesterday that she probably will seek to have the Baltimore County lawsuit dismissed or moved to Carroll County and combined with Mrs. Corbett's suit.

In the Baltimore County suit, Mark T. Mixter, Healthco's attorney, answered both complaints last week. He requested dismissal of the case or a transfer to Carroll.

Mr. Mixter said the company should be dismissed as a defendant in Mrs. Corbett's suit because Mr. Corbett "was not acting as the agent, servant or employee of Healthco."

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