A police deputy will receive more than $1.4 million as part of a workers compensation settlement after a deadly traffic accident that occurred while he was helping a disabled vehicle about to be towed from a bridge.
“While he was outside his vehicle, there was a truck that came from behind with a flatbed trailer that struck [the deputy’s] vehicle which in turn struck him and caused a chain reaction with the other two vehicles,” said Trip Riesen of Riesen DuRant.
The 2020 accident pitched the tow truck driver off the side of the Don Holt bridge killing him. Deputy Michael Costanzo survived the crash but suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as fractures to the back, femur, ankle, shoulder, clavicle and ribs.
Costanzo was transported to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma, eventually going through rehab in Atlanta where he learned to walk again. However, he was unable to return to his job after nearly three decades as a police officer.
“He loved serving the community and misses his co-workers,” Riesen said noting that he now does volunteer work and coaches high school baseball.
He said the main issue in dispute was whether or not the claimant’s injuries qualified as a lifetime disability or if it was simply a permanent and total disability case.
“It was our position that because Mike sustained a severe brain injury and was incapable of returning to work as a police officer or any other type of gainful employment, that it would meet the statutory definition of a permanent and severe brain injury that would allow for lifetime compensation,” he said.
The issue was important since South Carolina law limits permanently and totally disabled individuals to 500 weeks of payments but there are exceptions for paralysis and brain injury.
“In order to qualify under physical brain injury for lifetime benefits not limited to 500 weeks you must prove that the physical brain injury is permanent and severe,” he said.
Riesen said the settlement eventually netted a $1.1 million lump sum plus an additional $339,792 to fund a Medicare set aside trust for future medical expenses.
He said that the figure was in addition to earlier sums totaling more than three-quarters of a million dollars including more than half a million in past medical costs, more than $115,000 in non-medical services such as yard maintenance and house cleaning, nearly $100,000 in temporary total disability payments and $16,450 for home bathroom modifications.
Riesen listed J. Hubert Wood, III as representing the county in the matter. His office declined comment on the case.
SETTLEMENT REPORT – WORKERS COMPENSATION
Amount: $1,439,792 (plus additional amounts earlier in the case)
Injuries alleged: Traumatic brain injury, multiple fractures
Case name: Michael Costanzo v. Charleston County and South Carolina Association of Counties
Attorneys for plaintiff: Trip Riesen and Rutledge DuRant of Riesen DuRant, (Mount Pleasant)
Attorney for defendant: J. Hubert Wood, III, (Charleston)