Paul Cambria, noted Buffalo criminal defense attorney, was invited by WBEN’s John Zach and Susan Rose to do a two-part interview on the wrongful-death civil trial of Dr. James Corasanti that began recently in State Supreme Court. Dr. Corasanti, who hit and killed 18-year-old Alexandria Rice with his BMW SUV in 2011, was acquitted in an earlier criminal trial of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, and evidence tampering.
No “righting past wrongs”
Ms. Rose asked if defense attorneys fear a civil jury might try to “make up for what a criminal jury didn’t do,” and Mr. Cambria responded, “Yes, always. We’re sitting here with the legacy of O.J. Simpson . . . people say ‘well, he got off, but now there’ll be a civil penalty.’ So it’s unfortunate that all of this publicity, negative publicity, will have some sort of impact.”
And would the jury would be given instructions about this? Mr. Cambria said, “Not a specific instruction about that, but that’s in the jury selection process when the questions are asked. That’s why it’s so important in a civil case that follows a criminal case to be detailed and meticulous in the jury-selection process and have the jurors indicate that they wouldn’t take a prior trial, if they heard about it, into consideration.”
Compensatory versus punitive damages
Mr. Zach asked about the difference between Ms. Rice’s parents being compensated for the loss of their daughter and possible punitive damages.
“Compensatory damages basically mean to pay you for your actual loss,” Mr. Cambria said, “and, believe it or not, in cases where people lose their life, it’s almost like there’s a graph. If you are younger and you don’t have dependents and you didn’t have a high-paying job, the award would be much lower than someone who is, let’s say, middle-aged, with a lot of dependents, making a million dollars a year. The compensation for the loss would be less with the younger person.”
Punitive damages, on the other hand, Mr. Cambria explained are “very difficult to get, especially in New York, and you have to show basically willful or wanton or reckless activity on the part of the defendant, so it would have to be almost an intentional situation before punitive damages come into play.”
Asked how much Dr. Corasanti might have to pay, Mr. Cambria said, “Whatever the jury fixes as compensatory damages, which would be damages for loss of life, pain and suffering, and so on, and if the judge allows them to consider punitive damages . . . then they could set a number which they would consider penalizing, financially, the doctor.”
Probable defense position
“I’m sure the defense is going to take the same position as they did in the criminal trial,” Mr. Cambria noted, “that ‘this was an accident.’”
Mr. Cambria, a senior partner in Lipsitz Green’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, advises clients on constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense in addition to providing criminal defense representation.