Dr. Corasanti being led away in handcuffs following sentence. Pool photo by Buffalo News
BUFFALO, NY - A civil trial in the case of Dr. James Corasanti, the Amherst physician currently serving time in jail in connection with a fatal hit and run incident, is now set to begin in NYS Supreme Court on September 3rd.
WEB EXTRA: Legal analysis
This will be five months after Corasanti's expected release, and more than two years after the car he was driving struck and killed Alix Rice as she rode a long board along Heim Road in Amherst.
Corasanti was convicted by a jury in May 2012 of misdemeanor DWI , but found not guilty of the most serious charges against him, including vehicular manslaughter which could have resulted in a lengthy state prison term and revocation of his license to practice medicine.
Corasanti was sentenced last August to one year in jail, but is expected to be released in April if he continues to have no disciplinary problems while behind bars, under a state law, which makes inmates eligible for release after serving two thirds of their sentence.
WEB EXTRA: For more information on the Corasanti trial, check out wgrz.com/corasanti.
Rice's estate filed a wrongful death suit claiming negligence against Corasanti, and the Transit Valley Country Club, where he had been served alcohol before heading home in his car on that fateful night in July 2011.
"Actually that's a very fast track for a civil case," remarked Terrence Connors, the plaintiff's attorney representing Rice's estate. "Keep in mind we had to bide the outcome of the criminal prosecution, which slowed us down, but now it's on the calendar, the judge has it high on his radar screen, and we think that that's(September) when this trial will occur."
Asked if he expected the case might actually go to trial instead of being settled out of court, Connors replied, "I think it's a likelihood this case may go to trial given the unique nature of this case."
Connors also said Rice's parents remain determined at this point to see the civil case go to trial, as they continue to seek the justice they believe they were denied by the outcome of the criminal case, where the jury acquitted Corasanti of being criminally responsible for their daughter's death.
Despite that outcome, a civil court jury could still find Corasanti culpable for Rice's death, and would only have to conclude that he was responsible by a "preponderance" of the evidence, instead of being convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt", as the criminal court jury had to be.
One well known example of this, was the case of OJ Simpson, who was acquitted of murder charges in connection with the slaying of his ex wife and her friend, but later found civilly liable for their deaths.
"There are aspects of this case that many in our camp feel ought to be heard by the public so under those circumstances we think this case is being prepared for a trial track," said Connors.
This could include being able to present evidence that Corasanti had a prior DWI conviction years before the hit and run involving Rice, something which the judge in the criminal case precluded those jurors from hearing about.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and there would likely be a better chance of collecting damages, if Corasanti resumes his career, according to Connors.
"Right now he's still incarcerated until April. But upon the conclusion of that, he (Corasanti) has negotiated some type of agreement with the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, and I'm sure that part of that negotiation will involve his ability to go back to work in some capacity. By the time of this trial we will know whether he's back at work or doing anything from a standpoint of supporting himself," Connors said.
However, Connors insists that for his clients this case is not, nor has it ever been, about money.
"It was about the loss of their daughter and seeing that justice is done, and I think that a large part of it," he said.
As of Thursday evening, neither the attorney representing Corasanti in the civil suit, nor the one representing Transit Valley Country Club, had responded to our phone messages and e-mails seeking comment.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Chief Photojournalist Andy DeSantis. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2