In an encouraging sign that juries in Massachusetts have not completely bought the fallacy of “tort reform” and lost sight of the meaning of civil justice, a Norfolk County Superior Court jury recently awarded a $12 million plaintiff’s verdict in the case of a Massachusetts motor vehicle accident that resulted in horrific injuries for the injured parties who brought suit against the at-fault driver.
The case, Silviero v. Gentile, Norfolk Superior Court No.: 2007-212, resulted from a 2006 crash in Milton that left two men, brothers in their 60’s who lived with each other, devastatingly injured for the rest of their lives. The case is noteworthy not only for the large verdict, (especially in Norfolk County, which has not been known for producing large plaintiff’s verdicts,) but for the punishment the jury obviously felt was warranted in light of the defendant’s clearly false testimony in the case.
The two brothers who were victims in this Milton Massachusetts car accident case, Douglas and Joseph Homsi of Needham, were driving on Blue Hill Avenue in Milton at around 2 a.m. on Dec. 10, 2006, when a speeding Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) driven by (then) 26-year-old Vittorio C. Gentile Jr. of Canton, swerved across the double yellow lines in the roadway and collided head-on with the Homsi brothers’ vehicle. The resulting impact was so severe that rescue workers had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the brothers from the twisted wreckage. Joseph Homsi, who was the passenger, suffered a broken sternum and fractured ribs, as well as internal injuries. However, his brother, Douglas Homsi, who was the driver, suffered the worst from the impact, sustaining severe multiple bone fractures as well as injuries to his liver, spleen and other organs, which, collectively, left him unable to breathe or eat without assistance. The combination of these injuries later caused Douglas to suffer a stroke, which left him unable to speak. Making the result of Douglas’ injuries even more tragic was the fact that Douglas served as an informal caretaker for his brother Joseph, who suffers from mental disabilities. That is one of the reasons why the two brothers lived together in their Needham home.
But it wasn’t only the horrific injuries these two men suffered, and the fact that Douglas Homsi cared for his mentally disabled brother, which made this case stand out to the jury. In fact, a major reason for this verdict had less to do with the facts of the actual accident itself, than it had to do with events that took place before and after the accident. Events involving lying, deception, and false testimony –by the owners of the vehicle that Gentile was driving the night of the accident. The SUV that the younger Gentile had been driving that night didn’t belong to him. No, he hadn’t stolen it, either – he was using it with the tacit permission of the owners, who are Gentile’s grandparents, Lydia and Vittorio Gentile, of Westwood, Massachusetts. And it was the actions of the grandparents both before and after this accident, together with the younger Gentile’s actions in the accident – that caused this jury to award these victims $12 million.
You see, it seems that young Vittorio Gentile has a long and troubling record of motor vehicle violations and accidents, riddled with citations dating back to 1997 – of which his grandparents were both well aware of. In fact, the grandparents were so aware of their grandson’s high-risk driving history, that they took special steps with their auto insurance agent to have the younger Gentile removed as a “covered driver” from their auto insurance policy covering the vehicle that was involved in this crash. They removed their grandson from the policy because keeping him on it as a covered driver was causing their insurance premiums to increase dramatically, due to the younger Gentile’s numerous operator violations and motor vehicle accidents that he had been cited in. This introduces the legal doctrine of “Negligent Entrustment,” which essentially served as the basis for the jury’s finding in this case. I’ll discuss that legal doctrine, why the jury found liability here, and why they returned such a large verdict for these plaintiffs in my next post on this case.