When Thomas Timko made an obscene hand gesture to a driver who irked him, he may not have predicted the disastrous chain of events he set in motion -- but his daughter believes he could and should have, and she's suing him to prove it.
Driving home in October 2008 after taking his daughter Kaitlyn, now 11, for a day of shopping and swimming, Timko became angry when another driver cut him off on the Walt Whitman Bridge near Philadelphia, and flipped the guy the finger.
Unfortunately for Timko, he picked the wrong driver to tick off. Christian Squillaciotti, a schizophrenic former Marine with a gun, responded by firing four times into Timko's car, striking him in the head.
Miraculously, not only did Timko survive the shooting and manage to stop the car, but Kaitlyn in the back seat was unharmed by the bullets or shattered glass.
For both father and daughter, however, the incident has had a crippling aftermath. Timko suffered permanent brain damage and struggles with a disfiguring scar and soaring medical debts. As for Kaitlyn, her mother Lori Hardwerk, says she's never psychologically recovered.
Now Kaitlyn, through Hardwerk, is suing her father for compensation, saying his road rage not only provoked his own shooting, but left her with lasting emotional scars.
According to Hardwerk, who never married Timko though they were together for 20 years before they broke up in 2009, Kaitlyn has displayed signs of severe trauma since the shooting occurred.
"Prior to the incident, Kaitlyn was very outgoing and energetic -- a normal little girl," Hardwerk said. "Afterwards, she went into a shell. In addition to being extremely shy and introverted, Kaitlyn became afraid of being away from me and is very nervous when she is out of my sight."
Hardwerk arranged for Kaitlyn to have weekly therapy visits that were set up by a crime victims' program, but she says they haven't resolved Kaitlyn's issues and nearly three years after the shooting her daughter still displays signs of emotional damage.
"Kaitlyn remains afraid of anything that she cannot control, as well as loud noises, such as fireworks, thunder, motorcycles, etc," says Hardwerk.
According to child psychologist Dr David Fassler, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, this horrific experience contained a perfect storm of factors that lead to Kaitlyn's lasting trauma.
"Direct exposure to violent and confusing events involving people you know will typically have a more significant and lasting effect than a distant event involving strangers or acquaintances," he said.
"Kids also tend to react more to incidents which threaten the stability and predictability of their lives and immediate families," he says. "Kids who've had such experiences often require comprehensive and ongoing treatment to help them cope and go on with their lives."
But it's exactly this type of treatment that Hardwerk, who has not worked since a 2001 car accident left her disabled, says she cannot afford, and the initial insurance payout didn't cover.
Kaitlyn's attorney, Christopher Culleton of law firm Swartz Culleton PC, said Timko exacerbated a potentially deadly situation and deserves be held accountable.
"He cannot provoke other drivers, especially when he has his kid in the car," Culleton said. "Mr. Timko gave him the finger, through the sunroof. That escalated the situation."
But Timko's attorney Kevin McNulty says it's a case of misdirected anger.