Susan Boudreault, Executrix of the Estate of Richard A. Boudreault v. Esteban Pacheco and Jarmoc Tobacco LLC: The estate of a man who was killed when the motorcycle he was driving crashed into a tobacco farm tractor has recently recovered $1 million from a jury in Hartford.
Richard A. Boudreault, 50, of Enfield, was on his way home from work between 5:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2006. Boudreault was operating a motorcycle on Broad Brook Road in Enfield, according to his wife’s lawyer, Andy Groher, of RisCassi and Davis in Hartford, and was behind a tractor driven by Esteban Pacheco, a farmer for Jarmoc Tobacco LLC.
The tractor, Groher explained, was built in 1944 and was not equipped with lights or turn signals. The 10-foot-long tractor, carrying a 25-foot-long trailer full of tobacco leaves, was going at a speed of about 15 to 20 mph, Groher said.
Groher said Boudreault and another vehicle behind him followed the tractor for a few hundred feet around a curve. As the road straightened out, there was a passing zone.
Groher said the tractor began to pull over to the right shoulder. As the tractor swung towards the shoulder, Boudreault attempted to pass Pacheco to the left of the tractor. However, Pacheco wasn’t actually moving to the right shoulder to let vehicles pass his tractor. Instead, he was in the process of swinging wide to the right while making a left turn.
Groher said that as Pacheco turned left, Boudreault’s motorcycle collided with the tractor. Boudreault slid under the trailer attached to the tractor and was run over and dragged.
Boudreault left behind his wife and three sons. Groher said Boudreault was an assistant to the director of public works in the town of South Windsor.
"He was much loved in the town," said Groher. "They named an award in his honor that they give to employees that best exemplify his traits every year -dedication, loyalty, creativity, cost consciousness."
Groher explained there was a discrepancy as to whether Pacheco signaled to other drivers that he intended to turn left. The witness traveling behind Boudreault, a college student, claimed that Pacheco extended his left arm out as if to inform the traffic that he intended to turn left.
Meanwhile, a driver headed in the opposite direction on Broad Brook Road who witnessed the crash testified that he never saw Pacheco signal to his left.
"It was reasonable for my client’s husband to think [Pacheco] was pulling over to let cars go by him," said Groher.
Pacheco is a farmer who lives in Puerto Rico six months out of the year. He spends the other six months working on farms in Connecticut, Groher said.
Groher said the entrance Pacheco was turning into was a shared entrance. To the left, was a cement company. The right side of the entrance led to a group of storage barns, which was where Pacheco was going.
Groher said Pacheco testified that he was trained to make wide left turns into the entrance for the storage barns to avoid interfering with the cement company, which often had trucks exiting the facility.
Groher filed a negligence lawsuit on behalf of Boudreault’s wife, Susan, against both Pacheco and Jarmoc Tobacco LLC. The case went to trial before Judge A. Susan Peck in Hartford in April.
Representing the defendants was Steven L. Seligman, of Katz and Seligman in Hartford. Seligman argued that the accident was entirely Boudreault’s fault and portrayed the deceased as an impatient driver who wasn’t adequately paying attention to traffic.
Groher, meanwhile, argued that Pacheco, in a slow moving tractor, mislead Boudreault and other drivers by moving towards the right shoulder as soon as the road allowed for passing. Further, he argued that it was unnecessary for Pacheco to make a wide turn because there was no other truck looking to exit the cement company.
"My argument to the jury was that this was an unsafe maneuver by the tractor driver," explained Groher. "Stay in the middle of the road and make a turn like a normal person would and this never would’ve happened."
Groher said it is likely Boudreault interpreted Pacheco’s move to the right shoulder as a gesture to allow traffic to pass by him, which Pacheco testified he was taught to do if traffic was backed up behind him.
"Why else would a slow moving tractor move over to the right?" asked Groher. "I presume the jury must’ve seen it that way."
The case took a week-and-a-half to pick a jury, followed by two weeks of testimony. Groher said there were no significant settlement talks prior to the trial, as the most money his client was offered was $50,000 during jury selection.
Following three-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the jury came back with a verdict of $2 million but found Boudreault 50-percent comparatively negligent. However, in Connecticut, despite a 50-50 finding of negligence, it was still considered a plaintiff’s verdict with damages cut in half to $1 million.
Specifically, the jury found the economic loss to Boudreault’s estate to be $987,980 and the non-economic damages to be $432,020. It also awarded loss of consortium to Susan Boudreault for $580,000.
"We thought liability was very much an issue and obviously the jury agreed with us as they allocated the liability 50/50," said Seligman, the defense lawyer. "The jury worked hard on the case and that’s the result they came up with."
Seligman said he’s filed post-trial motions, including setting aside the verdict. If Judge Peck denies the motions then he expects the defendants will appeal.
"There was a witness who saw [Pacheco] make a left turn signal and understood he was making a left turn," said Groher. "And juries aren’t sympathetic to people riding motorcycles. Put those two together and we were really pleased with the result.
"Motorcycle crashes are very difficult from the cyclist’s perspective," continued Groher. "People tend to have the feeling you take your life in your hands when you ride a motorcycle and you get what you get."