Suit vs Former Connecticut Lawmaker Settled
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The family of a Connecticut woman found frozen to death in 2009 settled a lawsuit Wednesday against a former state lawmaker and a tavern accused of negligent and reckless actions in the last hours of her life, including letting her wander off wearing no coat or shoes in 14-degree weather.
Relatives of Carol Jean Sinisgalli withdrew the lawsuit against former state Rep. James O’Rourke and O’Leary’s Digger McDuff’s Tavern in Cromwell after resolving the dispute in private settlement talks, according a court document obtained by The Associated Press. Terms were not disclosed.
O’Rourke and the tavern owners didn’t admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, and their insurance companies paid the Sinisgalli family undisclosed amounts of money, their lawyers said. They previously denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Carol’s family continues to live with the pain of her loss every day, and they are relieved that they can put this lawsuit behind them,” said Pamela L. Cameron, a lawyer for Sinisgalli’s family.
Sinisgalli’s mother, Lorraine Sinisgalli, and a sister, Joan Sinisgalli, filed the lawsuit in February 2010, seeking at least $1 million in damages from both O’Rourke and the bar.
They alleged tavern employees were wrong to kick Sinisgalli out of the bar on the chilly night in January 2009, when she wasn’t wearing a coat or shoes. Sinisgalli was kicked out because she allegedly had attacked other patrons, including a man in a wheelchair, according to court documents.
O’Rourke, who was investigated by police but never charged in Sinisgalli’s death, told authorities he left the tavern that night at about the same time as Sinisgalli and she jumped into the back seat of his car. He said he tried to drive Sinisgalli, an acquaintance, to her home in Rocky Hill, but she became belligerent and knocked down his rearview mirror, garage door opener and glasses before jumping out of the car.
The longtime Department of Motor Vehicles employee was found dead the next afternoon in several inches of snow near train tracks in Rocky Hill. She was 41.
O’Rourke, a Democrat who lost a re-election bid in 2010, said he didn’t know Sinisgalli was barefoot.
“I believe that when she left the car, she was close to her home and knew where she was going,” O’Rourke told police in a written statement.
The lawsuit alleged O’Rourke was negligent and reckless for not doing something to prevent Sinisgalli from wandering off in freezing temperatures when he knew she was impaired.
No one answered phone listings Wednesday for O’Rourke, Lorraine Sinisgalli and Joan Sinisgalli.
The chief medical examiner’s office said Carol Jean Sinisgalli died accidentally of hypothermia and had cocaine and alcohol in her system, according to court documents.
The trial was to begin in October.
A psychiatrist was prepared to testify for O’Rourke that Sinisgalli was in a “cocaine paranoid psychosis” on the night in question and had a history of mental health problems, court documents say.
When asked what O’Rourke thought about the settlement, his attorney, Steven Seligman, said, “I think all parties are always ambivalent about the resolution of a case short of trial. All parties on the one hand want to have their day in court, and on the other hand all parties recognize there are virtues of resolving disputes short of a trial.”
An attorney for the tavern, Joseph Andriola, said his client’s insurer paid about 10 percent of the total settlement.
“As the evidence developed during discovery, it became patently clear that the negligence allegations against the tavern were unfounded,” Andriola said in an email to the AP. “The loss of Ms. Sinisgalli’s life was still a terrible tragedy. For that reason, we hope that the settlement of this matter, to whatever extent it can, brings some sense of closure to the (Sinisgalli) family.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)