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Judge Awards $1.3M After Fencepost Beating

3/10/2008

By THOMAS B. SCHEFFEY Jonathan Stewart v. Bryan Kapustinski.:

New Britain Superior Court Judge Wilson J. Trombley has ruled that Jonathan Stewart, a young Southington man, is entitled to $1.3 million for brain injuries he suffered when struck by a 4-by-4 fencepost. The 115-pound-Stewart was hit in the head with a baseball-type swing from 200- pound Bryan Kapustinski, an Army Special Forces veteran and a member of the University of Connecticut rugby team. As Trombley described it in his 34-page decision issued Feb. 25, the incident arose from a mix of alcohol, anger and asinine assumptions.

On April 8, 2004, Stewart was with a group of friends at the UConn campus in Storrs. According to Trombley, it started when rugby player Eric Gates,  in a drunken stupor, foolishly attacked one member of a group of four males, who didn't move fast enough to allow the truck operated by his girlfriend to pass.  When the four resisted Gates, his girlfriend summoned Kapustinski. On his way to the scene, Kapustinski armed himself with the fencepost. And without bothering to determine who had started the fracas, Kapustinski took a step that would link his life to Stewart's for years to come. Based on reports from campus and state police, Kapustinski challenged the group of four and struck Stewart's head with the full force of his two hundred pound frame behind that swing, the judge wrote. Meriden lawyer Brian T. Mahon, of Meriden's Weigand, Mahon and Adelman, represents Stewart. He said his client had some psychological difficulties before this brain trauma, including attention deficit disorder and depression. My client's life has certainly been altered by this assault, and he will need medical care for the rest of his life, said Mahon. Initially, Stewart was covered under his mother's insurance. That ended a year or two later. He didn't have money to pay for the prescriptions and medical treatment after that, Mahon said.

After the incident, Stewart spoke to an attorney in the Hartford area who declined who did not return calls for comment. Mahon said he did not know whether there would be an appeal. At the one-day trial, Kapustinski raised self-defense as an argument. Mahon said the physically fit former Ranger and paratrooper  had great combat training and training in self-defense.  Under the scenario established on the court record, however, the judge did not entertain his self-defense argument, said Mahon. Our witnesses were very clear that my client was doing nothing more than standing to the side, lighting a cigarette. He was with some friends, a couple of girls from UConn. This guy came up and swung a 4-by-4, and almost killed him. My client was just a sitting duck.He's lucky he's alive. Stewart was first hospitalized in Willimantic, then transferred by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital for emergency brain surgery.

The bulk of the damages awarded were non-economic. The judge awarded $38,602.20 for past economic damages and $50,000 for future economic damages. Compensation for pain and suffering, permanent injury and loss of the ability to enjoy life was worth $920,000 and an additional $300,000 in punitive damages was awarded, for a total of $1,308,602.02. Kapustinski has no obvious source of insurance funds, Mahon said. Still, he expects to recover as much money as possible: This is a non-dischargeable debt  that can't be wiped out by bankruptcy, the attorney said. It was a wanton, willful misconduct, and we will go to whatever means we have to go to collect. My client's life has certainly been altered by this assault, and he will need medical care for the rest of his life, said Mahon. to take the case.  His mother worked in the post office in Meriden. I knew her and I felt it was a case that should not be ignored,  said Mahon, a former president of the Connecticut Bar Association and the probate judge in Meriden. Mahon opted to have the case tried to a judge instead of a jury.  It was the type of case I felt would be better because of the complex legal issues of wanton and willful conduct and negligent assault to go before a judge,  said Mahon.  I think it was a good decision.  Kapustinski, didn't hire a lawyer at the beginning, and went pro se. He ultimately hired Meriden lawyer, David A. Fordiani,


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