Experts in driving under the influence law say the family pursuing legal action against the estate of Katherine Berman following a car crash in which Berman and one other motorist were killed now have a huge chance of winning the case with the release of a police report showing Berman was more than three times the legal limit at the time of the May 2017 accident. Katherine Berman was the wife of famed ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman.
“It makes the case easier for the plaintiffs lawyer to make a claim that she was reckless in her behavior,” said attorney Jay Ruane, who specializes in DUI law.
Ruane, of Ruane Attorneys At Law, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday that “in most situations, an insurance company who insured her will not want to say she was not under the influence given these facts that we suspect are true. In this type of situation, the lawyer can [probably] rely on the insurance company tendering the full policy.” Ruane, who is not involved in the case, added that while going after the estate is one thing, winning a suit against the eatery that served Berman is another thing. The family of Edward Bertulis has filed suit against Woodbury-based Market Place Kitchen & Bar under the Dram Shop Act.
The act make a business which sells alcoholic beverages to someone who is obviously intoxicated, or close to it, liable to anyone later injured or killed by that drunken patron.
“It’s harder to prove the case against the establishment,” Ruane said. “You have to show the bartender was serving someone they knew to be intoxicated and abrogated their duty. Unfortunately, many people do not necessarily present all the signs of being intoxicated when they are in a social setting.”
The 250-page police report, which was released last week, showed the blood alcohol level of Berman was 0.26. The legal limit in Connecticut is 0.08. In addition, the report states, Berman’s Lexus SC430 was traveling about 82 miles per hour. The speed limit at the Woodbury location where the crash occurred was 45 miles per hour. The police report also states there was no alcohol or drugs present in the blood stream of Bertulis, whose car Berman struck. According to a lawsuit filed against the restaurant, Berman “suddenly and without warning slammed into the rear end of Mr. Bertulis with such force that the impact caused Mr. Bertulis to be ejected from the vehicle and suffer severe injuries which later resulted in his death.”
New Milford attorney Philip Spillane, who is representing the Bertulis estate, said he is pursuing all legal avenues, but added, “we hope we will be successful in resolving without litigation.” Spillane, of Hoekenga & Machado, said he has been and will continue to keep in contact with Theresa Nehez, a senior claim director for Chubb Insurance in New Haven. Chubb is the carrier for the Berman auto liability policy. Spillane and Nehez both declined to say how much the Berman policy is for. Spillane declined to say how much money he was seeking for the Bertulis family.
“I will be having preliminary discussions with the insurance carrier the next few weeks in an effort to resolve without litigation,” Spillane said.
Spillane said he’s received calls from media outlets throughout the state and even one in New York City. “The Bertulis family would like their privacy to be respected during this time,” Spillane said. “They have received some [media] calls and are referring them to me.”
The Connecticut Law Tribune reached out Tuesday to Nehez, Chris Berman, Woodbury attorney David Sfara, restaurant owner Elias Hawli and Francis Paola of the Hartford-based Law Offices of Rodd Mantell. Paola represents Hawli and Sfara handles probate matters for the Berman estate. Nehez and Sfara declined to comment Tuesday. Berman, Hawli and Paola did not respond to requests for comment.