DRAM SHOP AWARD:
The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — A jury has returned a $16.8 million verdict against a Hartford bar, its owner and a drunken driver who seriously injured two state troopers in 2008.
The Superior Court jury on Thursday awarded the damages to James LaPlante, a trooper who was forced to take a disability retirement as a result of the injuries he suffered when Ivan Vasquez Jr.'s 1984 Ford pickup truck careened into him and another trooper, who were out of their cars, near I-84's Asylum Avenue exit.
LaPlante, of Vernon, suffered a fractured right knee that was put back together with seven screws and a metal plate, a lower back injury that resulted in bulging discs, a sprained ankle and an injured left knee, said his lawyer, Timothy Brignole of Hartford.
Brignole, of the Brignole, Bush and Lewis law firm, sued Vasquez and the bar where he drank before the crash on July 19, 2008.
After seven days of testimony, jurors found Piggy's Café on Hawthorne Street in Hartford and its owner, Joseph A. Malick Jr., liable and awarded LaPlante $4.2 million. The jury found that Vasquez's conduct was reckless and tripled the damages against him to $12.6 million.
The injuries not only forced LaPlante into a disability retirement, but he has incurred nearly $100,000 in medical expenses and lost that much in salary, Brignole said.
Brignole said he presented the jury with evidence that Vasquez drank at least 11 beers and had a blood-alcohol level of .177 when he left the bar. At the time of the crash his blood alcohol content was .146. The legal limit is .08.
"The jury sent a message to only the bars but to drunk drivers that they will be held accountable and responsible when they injure … state troopers," Brignole said.
Ted Hieser of Essex, the lawyer for Piggy's and Malick, said the judge will reduce the jury award to $250,000, the amount he said is permitted under the state's dram shop act. The law limits the liability of bars.
Brignole said he intends to challenge that and pursue the full amount of the verdict for LaPlante.
Vasquez did not appear to defend himself in the trial.
He was found guilty in June 2009 of drunken driving and two counts of second-degree assault with a motor vehicle, given an eight-year suspended jail sentence and placed on probation for five years. He had a public defender in his criminal case.
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