$9M settlement for ferry crash victim BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO Newsday Staff Writer March 25, 2006 A Staten Island man who lost both legs in the Oct. 15, 2003 ferry crash got a settlement of almost $9 million from the city for his injuries, the largest so far in the catastrophic accident that took 11 lives. In a statement released Friday, city officials said that Paul Esposito, 26, of the Sea View section, will get $8,986,852 in the settlement. That amount, which is expected to be placed in an annuity to give Esposito income for life, makes it one of the largest personal injury settlements in city history. Esposito's settlement dwarfed any other made in the ferry crash, but his injuries are among the most severe. A total of $3.2 billion in claims by 191 people were filed after the accident in which the Andrew J. Barberi crashed into a dock on Staten Island. By late October, settlements had been reached in 98 cases amounting to just $3.6 million. One fatality, that of John Valinski, 40, was settled for $450,000. "The city continues to express its deep regret for this tragic accident and hopes that this settlement will in some measure bring closure to Mr. Esposito and his family," said Lawrence Kahn, chief litigating assistant for the City Law Department in a statement released Friday. An attorney familiar with the ferry claims but not involved with the Esposito case said the $9 million represented the present value of the award and that it was expected to grow to $25 million over the victim's life through the annuity. Esposito had originally filed a $300 million claim. A spokesman for City Comptroller William Thompson said the Esposito settlement is the second highest personal injury settlement made by the city this fiscal year, topped only by a settlement of $9.5 million earlier this year for an automobile accident. It is also higher than the $8.7 million given to Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, a victim of police brutality in 1997, as well as the $3 million given to the family of Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant killed by police in the Bronx in 1999, the spokesman noted. Neither Esposito nor his attorney Derek Sells could be reached for comment Friday. Esposito has become mobile by using computerized prosthetics and has reportedly been able to hike. News of the Esposito settlement reverberated with attorneys handling the remaining ferry claims. The city filed a special federal court action in December 2003 seeking to limit its liability to $14.2 million, an amount that represents the value of the repaired vessel, plus a special tonnage allowance. The city maintains that under maritime law, it shouldn't be exposed to astronomical liability. An investigation revealed the ferry crashed when pilot Richard Smith lost consciousness at the controls. But the high award to Esposito, which apparently doesn't affect the amount the city claimed in the federal case, signaled to some that the city now believes it is on shaky legal ground. "In view of the settlement, maybe they are lacking confidence in the legal theory," said attorney Anthony Bisignano, who is one of the attorneys fighting the city's effort to limit its liability. "In light of the settlement, maybe they ought to withdraw their petition to [limit liability] and attempt to settle all of the cases."