BRIDGEPORT – Westport dairy store magnate Stew Leonard has agreed to settle a multi-million-dollar lawsuit brought by the wife of a resort owner who died when he was swept of Leonard’s powerboat off the island of Tortola in 2011.
The settlement was reached as the suit was about to go to trial in Superior Court here.
Joel Faxon and Richard Meehan Jr., who had represented Barbara Speranza, would not disclose the dollar amount of the settlement for their client because of a confidentikality agreement they had signed with Leonard. However, in court papers they had previously offered to settle the lawsuit for $7.5 million.
“All the parties are happy the case has resolved,” Faxon said.
Leonard founded large stores in Norwalk, Danbury, Newington and Yonkers that are now run by his son,Stew Leonard Jr.
On Aug. 16, 2011, Robert Speranza, 73, was a passenger on the Leonards’ 70-foot powerboat, ” Stew ‘s Special,” near the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands when the reckless operation of the boat caused him to be tossed overboard, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement later, Stew Leonard said: “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.
“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,” he 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.”
Leonard said the captain, Martijn Haasdit, dove in and was able to bring Speranza back to the boat. “And we immediately began CPR, which continued for the next 30 minutes until we reached the dock in Tortola.”
Meehan said the Leonards took out the boat even though they knew rough weather was on its way to the area.
“The seas were building and it was not safe for the boat to be operating in those seas,” he said.
Speranza’s attorneys say the boat was operated at high speeds in dangerous seas near 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 mph, Faxon said.
“I’m quite certain the evidence is going to show the speeds were excessive,” Faxon said.
A former NASA engineer, Speranza later went on to build many of the homes on Saugatuck Shores in Westport, Meehan said.
He and his wife later moved to St. Maarten, where they owned the Ocean Club resort.
Faxon said the Speranzas had been married for 53 years and were enjoying travel.
“She’s devastated by this whole thing,” Faxon said. “They lived a tremendous life. They were just loving retirement.”