A former Washington lawyer, who suffers from a rare incurable disease that slowly hardens his muscles to bone, has won a $1.2 million legal settlement from Metro stemming from a Metrobus accident in 1978.
The lawyer, Philip C. Hochman, 28, contended in a D.C. Superior Court lawsuit that the accident jarred the disease out of remission.
Hochman, who now lives with his parents in New Jersey, was crossing the intersection at 3rd and C streets SW on a rainy evening April 6, 1978, when he was struck by a bus.
Metro must pay Hochman $1 million of the $1.2 million settlement by Friday, according to court records, and the balance must be paid with interest by july 31.
The settlement was one of the largest of its kind here in recent years. Metro attorney Harold Smith said Metro agreed to the sum because it feared a jury might award an even larger amount if the case went to trial. A trial had been scheduled for yesterday, but attorneys in the case worked out the settlement last Friday.
Hochman claimed in the original lawsuit that he suffered a broken arm, fractured pelvis and other injuries in the accident. He also contended it aggravated and intensified the bone and muscle disease first diagnosed when he was a boy.
At the time of the accident, Hochman was an attorney earning about $18,000 a year in the civil rights section of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. According to court records, he accumulated $30,000 in medical bills in one year, is now totally dependent on his parents for support and may not be able to work again.
"He is literally turning to stone," said Hochman's lawyer, Philip J. Hirschkop of Alexandria.
In a letter included in the court file, Hochman described the disabilities that have come as his leg, hip and pelvis have calcified to the hardness of bone:
"I cannot sit at all, I can only bend slightly and my ability to move has been almost totally restricted. I have mostly lost the sense of balance that my right leg previously afforded me and hence I am barely mobile."
According to medical literature included in the court record, there are only about 300 reported cases of the disease afflicting Hochman, which is known as "myositis ossificans.
It effects muscles, ligaments, and tendons and is characterized by the appearance in them of "masses of bone or areas of calcification," one article said. Males are most commonly affected, according to court records, and there are various theories for the origin of the disease, including heredity, infection-particularly rheumatic fever--and trauma.
The lifespan of disease victims is short, according to records in the case, because the jaw becomes stiff and the lungs become constrained because of progressive calcification of chest muscles. A letter from one doctor in the court file said that Hochman had experienced both of these known as "myositis ossificans."
In court papers, Metro contended that Hochman was outside the crosswalk at 3rd and C streets SW when he was struck by the METROBUS. metro also argued that while the accident may have aggravated Hochman's muscle and bone disease, the effects were not permanent.
The driver of the Metrobus, who was not a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a report in the court files that the street was wet in the poorly lit neighborhood when he turned from 3rd St. onto C St. at about 5 miles an hour on his final run for the evening.
"As I turned and proceeded there was almost a blinding glare. I felt the impact and hit my brakes. It was the pedestrian," the driver said in a report included in the court files.
Hochman, who struck his head on the bus windshield, fell in front of the vehicle, got up, stumbled to the right front of the bus and fell again, according to the driver's recollection of the accident.
Damage to the windshield of the bus totaled $200, according to court records, and the bus driver was suspended for three days. A supervisor then recommended that the driver be reinstated after he completed eight hours of retraining, court records said.
Hirschkop, the attorney for Hochman, said his law firm will receive one-quarter of the $1.2 million settlement.