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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Suit Filed in Stew Leonard Sr. Boating Accident Death

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UPDATE The wife of a 73-year-old former Westporter who died after being swept off Stew Leonard Sr.‘s boat by a 12-foot-high “rogue wave” in the Caribbean last summer today filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Leonard and his son Tom.

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The 70-foot Stew’s Special which was hit by a “rogue wave.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Attorneys representing Barbara Speranza, wife of Robert Speranza, told reporters in New Haven today that the suit was filed in Bridgeport Superior Court. They said she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the “millions of dollars,” according to a statement.

“Barbara was just not able to get any anwers as to exactly what happened so she said I’ve got to take the next step –- I’ve got to find out what happened to my husband of 53 years because she has been devastated,” said Joel T. Faxon of Stratton Faxon Law Firm, who is representing Speranza.

Shortly after the Aug. 16, 2011 accident, Westporter Stew Leonard Jr. said that his family has been devastated by the loss of their longtime friend. “My father is in shock,” he said, “and I know Bob Speranza’s family is in shock.” (See WestportNow Aug. 19, 2011)

The suit names Leonard, his son, Thomas P. Leonard, and Carpe Diem Three, LLC, the company it said owns the Stew’s Special powerboat. It contends that reckless and negligent behavior at sea led to the untimely death of Speranza.

“During the voyage, the reckless operation of the vessel caused Robert Speranza to be violently tossed about inside the boat, inflicting severe head and spinal injuires, and then ejected from the craft into the Caribbean Sea, resulting in Robert’s death,” the statement said.

Reached this evening, Faxon expounded on the prepared statement.

“They were going on a 300-mile trip with small craft warnings, meaning waves are high and winds are high,” Faxon said. “And the course they went through had two dangerous straits in the Carribean sea, and they likely went at a very high speed.”

Regarding Leonard Sr.‘s claim the day of the accident that the 70-foot Stew’s Special had been hit by a 12-high, rogue wave, Faxon said, “Who knows?”

“They should not have been out there,” he said. “It was extremely dangerous.”

While Faxon would not say how many millions his client is pursuing in punitive damages, he noted that in the past he won a wrongful maritime death lawsuit with a $10 million award. That case involved the death of a woman on a yacht rammed by a coal barge, he said.

“With the punitive damages aspect, the measure of the damages is based on the wealth of the defendant, and Stew Leonard is extremely wealthy,” said Faxon.

He said that in addition to Barbara Speranza losing “her soul mate of 53 years,” she was forced to sell the Ocean Club, the St. Maarten resort her husband owned and operated until his death. The loss of the resort, Faxon said, would figure into the award, which a jury would have to decide.

Stew Leonard Jr., who was not on the boat, told WestportNow the day after the accident that the Leonards and Speranzas had been close family friends for more than 40 years. Over the years, Speranza, had undertaken many construction projects for the Leonards, he said, adding that his mother Marianne Leonard was also a close friend of Barbara Speranza.

According to the St. Maarten Daily Herald website, Leonard Sr., Speranza, Leonard’s son Tom and the boat’s captain Martjin Haasdit had set out at 6 a.m. en route to St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands to deliver propellers.

“As we approached the island a huge rogue wave came out of nowhere and hit the bow of the boat.,” Leonard, Sr. told the Daily Herald.

“It must have been 12 feet high. The wave came crashing through the boat and smashed the glass of the 10-foot-wide windshield, which is normally bulletproof. My son was also swept down to the back of the boat, but he was able to grab onto a railing.”

“Immediately we turned the boat around to look for Bob where we saw white cushions floating in the water,” he added. ” We called in a ‘mayday,’ got him on board, and proceeded to do CPR on him for about 30 minutes, which was the time it took to get the boat to Tortola.

“We all worked on him, trying everything we could to resuscitate him, but to no avail.”

Leonard Jr. said he heard that at the hospital in Tortola his father kept moving back and forth between two rooms.

“He kept going from room to room, one where my brother Tommy was conscious and had a number of stitches and bruises, and the other where, Bob was unconscious,” Leonard Jr. said.

At first the doctors managed to get Speranza’s pulse started and his breathing going again, but shortly afterwards he died, the newspaper said.

Leonard, Jr. said the entire event brought back painful memories for him and his wife Kim of 1989 when their son Stew Leonard III, 2, drowned in a swimming pool while the family was vacationing in St. Maarten.

“This just brought all that back,” said Leonard Jr. who shortly after the drowning launched the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation.

He said that Speranza’s brother, Joe Speranza of Weston, “was the one whose shoulder I leaned on” after his son died.

“When I spoke to him the other day, he said now I have to lean on your shoulder,” Leonard, Jr. said.

A spokeswoman at Stew Leonard’s said the company had no comment on the lawsuit. Leonard Sr. could not be reached.

James Lomuscio contributed reporting.

Posted 03/07 at 02:42 PM


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