Woman Settles For $225,000 After ATV Accident
Leanne Hellyar v. James Crowley, et al.: A woman who broke her foot and collarbone after getting hit by an all-terrain vehicle at a party has settled her lawsuit for $225,000.
On September 4, 2010, Leanne Hellyar, 34, of New Haven, attended a large Labor Day party at a private residence owned by KMR Holding Company LLC, which is located in the Quaker Farms section of Oxford. The sole members of KMR Holding Company, Marc and Kimberly Reynolds, live on the property and also maintain a veterinary practice there.
The party, which had become an annual tradition, included an admission charge to cover the cost of food, drinks and entertainment.
Hellyar's lawyer, Lawrence C. Sgrignari, of Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari in Hamden, said there were about 100 people at the 2010 party. Sgrignari said the Labor Day party had started years earlier as a small get-together for friends and family and became a bigger and bigger event as time passed.
Sgrignari said the guests parked in a large field in the rear of the property and could camp out there overnight if they did not want to drive home after the festivities. "Food, music and games, it was your normal party fare," said Sgrignari.
Sgrignari said some guests brought ATVs to ride in the field.
A friend invited Hellyar to the party and she arrived at approximately 6:30 p.m. Roughly an hour later, according to Sgrignari, Hellyar was standing in the open field next to some parked vehicles when she was struck by an ATV owned by the Reynolds and driven by another guest, James Crowley.
Crowley was operating the ATV at an excessive speed and lost control of the vehicle, Sgrignari said. The lawyer noted that although Crowley had consumed alcohol, his blood-alcohol content was well below the legal limit of intoxication at the time of the incident.
Hellyar suffered a right clavicle (or collarbone) fracture, a broken left foot and a laceration to her left calf. The latter required 16 stitches, Sgrignari said.
As a result of her injuries, Hellyar incurred $25,000 in medical expenses. It was also estimated that she would have a future expense of $7,500 to address the scar on her left calf. Hellyar, who was employed as a social worker at the time of the accident, did not incur any lost wages. "Her physical injuries healed pretty well," said Sgrignari. "The only ongoing difficulty is that she had a rather unsightly scar on her calf that the surgeon said she would benefit from some scar revision. Beyond that, she's doing very well."
Because of her injuries, Hellyar brought a lawsuit against James Crowley, KMR Holding Company and Marc and Kimberly Reynolds for negligence and recklessness. Attorney Jack Stuart Taylor, of Wilson & Taylor in New Haven, represented the defendants on behalf of their insurance company. Taylor declined comment for this article.
KMR Holding Company and the Reynolds maintained a combined auto and premises liability policy through Massachusetts Home Insurance Company. The Reynolds claimed that party guest Crowley was never granted permission to operate the ATV in the first place. Therefore, the insurance carrier argued that since Crowley was a non-permissive user of the ATV in insurance policy terms, the Reynolds were not responsible for Crowley's negligence.
Crowley, meanwhile, had no insurance policy that could be targeted by the plaintiff's lawyer. Sgrignari further said Crowley was unresponsive to the lawsuit and ended up getting served a subpoena so Sgrignari could take his deposition. "He was the key to establishing the property owners' negligence," said Sgrignari.
Crowley ultimately testified at a deposition that he believed the ATV to be available for recreational use by anyone attending the party. "I think it became pretty clear from the standpoint of the permissiveness of the use," said Sgrignari. "Certainly [Crowley] was under the impression that he was using the ATV, as were other people at the party, and he believed it to be there for recreational use at the party."
To further their claim against the Reynolds, Sgrignari also asserted independent claims of negligence and recklessness against them for failing to secure the vehicle and otherwise prevent those attending the party from using the ATV.
"If their position was that the vehicle was not to be used during the party, it's a fairly simple process to lock up the keys and they chose not to," said Sgrignari. "As a result of that, they allowed the people there access to a potentially dangerous instrumentality."
Sgrignari said that after he took depositions from all of the defendants, he engaged in settlement discussions with a claim adjuster from Massachusetts Home Insurance Company. The two sides agreed to settle the case for $225,000 rather than proceed to trial.
Sgrignari said the Massachusetts Home Insurance Company initially planned to pursue what is called an "assignment of claims" case against Crowley to recoup its losses, as he was the negligent driver of the ATV. In the end, however, the insurance carrier thought better of it and covered the settlement on its own.