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Woman Wins $3.2 Million Settlement From Moped Accident

May 20, 2005 | The Providence Journal

A Newport County jury has awarded a local woman more than $3.2 million, five years after she crashed her moped into a gate while cutting through a downtown parking lot.

Local business owner Denise Dulac underwent 10 major leg surgeries after the August 2000 incident along Mary Street that her lawyer argued was easily avoidable.

After three days of testimony last week, the jury agreed.

The parking lot gate was not marked with reflective tape, although such safety measures are common industry practice.

"The essence of the case was this: 30 seconds of caring and 30 cents of cost would have prevented the injury," said Dulac's attorney. "She went through hell. She had apparatuses on her legs for months, screwed into her femur, wires wrapping bones together, probably 30 pins drilled into her leg."

The parking lot was owned by the city of Newport, but had been leased by Historic Wharves Associates for the Newport Yachting Center at the time.

Historic Wharves attorneys argued it wasn't liable for Dulac's injuries because she shouldn't have cut through the privately controlled parking lot in the first place.

Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr. rejected that claim, however, ruling that the jury could not consider Dulac a trespasser.

"The bottom line is that it's a public lot," her attorney said, adding that there were no signs restricting public access to the area, which was a common cut-through spot for scooters, motorcycles and pedestrians. "There was nothing to suggest that what she was doing was improper in any way, shape, or form."

Six days a week, Dulac, 50, of 15 Clarke St., passed through the Mary Street lot at around 6 a.m. on her way to her coffee shop, the Espresso Yourself Cafe. The parking attendant regularly waved to Dulac on her way by, Brice said.

The parking lot gate was generally open between 5:30 and 6:30 each morning, while the area was being cleaned. But on Aug. 20, 2000, a Sunday, the gate was down.

"As you drive up to it, the gate isn't marked and the background behind the gate is gray," her lawyer said. "At 6 a.m. there's sunlight, but it's not bright."

Dulac turned into the lot, not noticing the battleship-gray gate was down until she was a few feet away. She avoided a head-on collision, but crashed her moped and suffered the leg injury.

The jury deemed that Historic Wharves Associates was primarily responsible for the accident, but attributed 25 percent of the liability to Dulac. Even subtracting her part, Dulac's award amounted to just over $2 million for medical costs, missed work, and pain and suffering, with an additional $1.2 million in interest.

Just before the verdict, however, both sides came to a settlement that gives Dulac a slightly lower amount, though Brice would not release the exact figure.

Under the terms of the settlement, there can be no appeal.

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