Stew Leonard's Founder Sued in Boater's DeathNew Haven Register
March 08, 2012
The founder of Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s grocery store chain is facing a lawsuit alleging the reckless operation of his powerboat caused the death of a passenger last year.
Barbara Speranza is seeking millions of dollars in damages against Stewart Leonard Sr., his son Thomas Leonard and the company that owns the boat for the death of her husband, Robert. Her lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Bridgeport Superior Court.
“It’s going to be many, many millions of dollars that we’re going to be seeking from the jury in this case,” said Speranza’s attorney, Joel Faxon.
Speranza, a former Westport resident who owned the Ocean Club in St. Maarten, was violently tossed about the boat, suffering head and spinal injuries before he was ejected into the sea, his attorneys said.
Faxon said it's unclear if the $4.6 million, 70-foot boat, called "Stew's Special," was operated by Leonard, his son or an employee.
Speranza’s attorneys say the boat was operated at high speeds in dangerous seas near the Caribbean island of Tortola. A small craft advisory/warning had been issued, they said.
“As the master of the boat, Stew Leonard made a reckless decision to go on that trip,” Faxon said. Stew Leonard had the boat designed to go as fast as 90 miles per hour, Faxon said. “I’m quite certain the evidence is going to show the speeds were excessive,” Faxon said.
Stew Leonard said last year a wave 12 to 15 feet high came out of nowhere and hit his powerboat. Meghan Bell, a family spokeswoman, declined comment, saying they had not seen the lawsuit yet.
Robert Speranza, a neighbor of Leonard’s, helped design parts of Apollo 13 and the F-16 fighter jet, Faxon said. He said the Speranzas had been married for 45 years and were enjoying travel.
“She’s devastated by this whole thing,” Faxon said. “They lived a tremendous life. They were just loving retirement.”