Posted on Jun 07, 2012

The heir to a Colombian brewery fortune has pled guilty to a Manhattan hit-and-run in 2011, in which he left his a man crippled on the ground. He is now being sued for $100 million -- a case that is likely strengthened by the guilty plea this week.


The accident occurred on March 29 of last year in Midtown, at the intersection of Third Avenue and East 34th Street. Andres Santo Domingo was in his black AMG-series Mercedes, when he caught the plaintiff, 26-year-old Ryan Coutu, a college freshman.


His side mirror forcefully hit Coutu's elbow, at which point Santo Domingo and Coutu purportedly made eye contact. This indicates Santo Domingo likely knew he had caused an injury. He then peeled out and ran over Coutu's foot, forcing him to the ground in agony.


Coutu is currently in rehab for herniated discs. He is scheduled for another surgery and repair for nerve damage in his elbow.


Santo Domingo's father, who stands at a worth of $6 billion, is the second wealthiest man in Colombia. Coutu's lawyer believes the high price tag on his civil suit is proper because anything less would not register as punishment for Santo Domingo. Meanwhile, he is facing six days of community service and driving suspension for 90 days.


Comment: The amount the attorney is suing for is meaningless. The news media pick up and sensationalize the amount listed in the complaint. It has no bearing or relation to the actual injury. This is why consumers who read about these types of cases often get distorted views of injured victims and the lawsuits they bring. It also creates a distorted view as the reader believes the attorney is somehow to blame for excessive verdicts.


The reality is that the amount the attorney puts is known as an ad damnum clause. This is the maximum amount that could ever be recovered.


If the attorney will only put, let's say $100,000 as to what he believes his client is entitled to, and the jury awarded $1 million, his clients would only be able to recover a maximum of $100,000.


In an effort to prevent this scenario from ever happening, the attorney will often put down an overly inflated number as a protective mechanism. This way, if the jury of the awards his client a significant number after trial he will never have to worry they put a number that was too low when he started the lawsuit.


Although there are some instances where that number can be raised after the jury verdict, is an extremely dangerous tactic for the attorney to wait till after the trial to raise that number. The reason it is dangerous is that the trial judge may reject that request and the appellate court may confirm the trial judge's decision.


One thing the article does not discuss is whether billionaire's insurance company will provide insurance coverage for this incident. 


Car insurance is available in cases of negligence or carelessness. However, in cases where there is a hit and run, there is often a question of whether this may have been intentional. The news reports do not indicate whether there was any hint of intent, where the driver intended to cause harm to this individual.


If the driver intended to cause harm then there would not be available insurance. In that instance the insurance company would disclaim any coverage.


What does that mean for the injured victim if the driver's insurance company refuses to provide insurance coverage? It means that the victim would then have to go after the driver's personal assets to cover any judgment or award. In this case, it seems as if this billionaire driver has plenty of personal assets if that were the case.




If you would like more information about how car accident cases work in the state of New York, I encourage you to explore my educational website. If you have legal questions, I invite you to pick up the phone and call me at 516-487-8207 or by e-mail at [email protected] to answer your questions. That's what I do every day. I welcome your call.

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Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer