This photo made in 2000 and provided by Barbara Speranza via her attorney, shows Barbara Speranza, left, and her late husband Robert Speranza. Barbara Speranza is seeking damages against Stewart Leonard Sr., founder of Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s grocery store chain, and his son Thomas Leonard, for the death of Robert Speranza, who was swept off Leonard’s boat and died in August 2011. A law suit was filed Wednesday March 7, 2012 in Bridgeport, Conn., Superior Court. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Barbara Speranza) ()
Barbara Speranza, personal representative and executrix of the estate of Robert Speranza, and Barbara Speranza, individually v. Stewart “Stew” Leonard Sr., Thomas P. Leonard and Carpe Diem Three LLC: The founder of Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s supermarket chain and the widow of a man who fell off of Leonard’s boat near a Caribbean Island and drowned have settled a lawsuit that was filed in state court.
Though the settlement amount is being kept confidential, the plaintiffs had sought $7.5 million, according to court documents.
“It’s going to be many, many millions of dollars that we’re going to be seeking from the jury in this case,” said one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Joel Faxon, of Stratton Faxon in New Haven, after the suit was filed in March 2012.
Lawyers involved in the case would only confirm that there was a settlement; they said a confidentiality agreement prevents them from discussing details of the litigation. “The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties,” Faxon said.
Barbara Speranza sued Stewart Leonard Sr., his son, Thomas Leonard, and the company that legally owns the boat, Carpe Diem Three, saying that the defendants’ actions caused the wrongful death of her husband, Robert, on Aug. 16, 2011. Speranza was represented by Faxon and Richard Meehan Jr., of Meehan, Meehan & Gavin in Bridgeport.
Robert Speranza, a former Westport resident who owned the Ocean Club, a resort in St. Maarten in the British Virgin Islands, was violently tossed about the boat, suffering severe brain, head and spinal injuries before he was ejected into the sea, according to the complaint. Speranza was 73 years old at the time.
The vessel circled back around and located Speranza, but he had prolonged exposure in the water and resuscitation efforts were not successful.
It was unclear who specifically was captaining the $4.6 million, 70-foot boat, called “Stew’s Special,” that day. Lawyers say that both an employee of the boat company and Thomas Leonard said they were. Stewart Leonard Sr. said he wasn’t at the helm.
Speranza’s attorneys say the boat was operating at high speeds in dangerous seas near the Caribbean island of Tortola. A small craft advisory/warning had been issued, they said. The destination for the voyage was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A YouTube video on the Internet shows one of the vessel’s captains, Martijn Haasdijk, calling “Stew’s Special” the “fastest boat in the Caribbean.” Stewart Leonard Sr. had the boat designed to go as fast as 90 mph. The plaintiff’s lawyers were prepared to introduce evidence at trial that boat speed and rough waters were a factor on the day of Speranza’s death.
“As the master of the boat, Stew Leonard made a reckless decision to go on that trip,” Faxon said at the time the lawsuit was filed.
After the incident, Stewart Leonard Sr. released a statement.
“As we got further out to sea, the waves turned from 2- to 3-foot to 5 to 6. As we were approaching Virgin Gorda, about one mile offshore, a rogue wave about 12 to 15 feet high suddenly came out of nowhere and hit the bow of the boat,” said Leonard.
“I was behind the 10-foot-wide bulletproof windshield, which took the full force of the impact of the avalanche of water, and put my two arms up to protect my face,” Leonard said in the statement. “But both Bob [Speranza] and my son, Tom, were swept down to the back of the boat. Tom was able to grab onto a railing, but the torrent of water swept Bob overboard and he was left drifting unconscious in the water.”
The lawsuit alleged wrongful death, negligence and recklessness. It claims that even after it became clear how rough the seas were, passengers weren’t properly secured on the boat.
Robert Speranza, who was a neighbor of Leonard’s, is a former NASA engineer who helped design parts of Apollo 13 and the F-16 fighter jet, according to plaintiff’s lawyers. The Speranzas had been married for 53 years and were enjoying travel.
“She’s devastated by this whole thing,” Faxon said at the time. “They lived a tremendous life. They were just loving retirement.”
Representing the Leonards and the company that owned the boat were Florida attorney Richard Rumrell and Michael Lynch, of Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey in Shelton.•