WESTPORT, Conn. – The wrongful death lawsuit against dairy superstore owner Stew Leonard Sr. for the at-sea death of a former Westport man will be tried at Bridgeport Superior Court despite an attempt to have the case moved to the federal court system.
The case against Leonard was filed last March by Barbara Speranza, whose husband Robert died in August 2011 when he was swept off Leonard’s 70-foot powerboat, Stew’s Special, in the Caribbean after the vessel was reportedly struck by a 12-foot wave.
Not long after the suit was filed, Leonard’s attorneys tried to remove the case from the state court system and into federal court, said Joel Faxon, one of the attorneys representing Barbara Speranza.
“A federal judge ruled that the move was improper and sent it back to state court system,” said Faxon. “This has delayed the case for a whole year, but we’re ready to press this forward.”
A trial date will be set next month during a scheduling hearing, Faxon said. He and Barbara Speranza's other attorney will push to have the case heard this calendar year, he added.
In addition to Leonard Sr., the lawsuit names his son, Thomas Leonard, and the boat’s owner, Carpe Diem Three LLC, as defendants. Leonard Sr. is a member of Carpe Diem.
Robert Speranza, 73, was with the Leonards and the boat’s captain when it was reportedly hit by a wave that smashed the boat's windshield and almost capsized the vessel. The group was traveling from St. Maarten to St. Thomas, Faxon said.
Although Robert Speranza’s death could be considered accidental, Faxon said Leonard Sr. should not have taken the boat out on the water at the time, as there was a small craft advisory in effect. A small craft advisory means wind/wave conditions can be hazardous for smaller vessels.
“A jury of his peers will have to make the decision as to whether he was a reckless boater that day, traveling from St. Maarten to the U.S. Virgin Islands despite a small craft advisory,” Faxon said.
The Leonards' attorneys at Lennon Murphy Caulfield & Phillips could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Robert and Barbara Speranza lived in St. Maarten, where they owned a business.