BUFFALO, NY - Shortly after Alix Rice was struck and killed by a car driven by Dr. James Corasanti last July, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on her estate's behalf by attorney Terrence Connors.
Now that Corasanti's criminal trial has concluded (in which he was acquitted of all felony counts against him) the lingering civil matter will begin to proceed through the court system.
"It's now going to pick up steam and proceed at a much faster pace," Connors told WGRZ-TV. "We are now in the discovery phase, which necessarily slowed down because of the criminal case, so we can now pick up pace. The first formal appearance will be on Friday for a pre-trial conference. At that point we will discuss scheduling and issues such as discovery disputes. We may also project the possibility of a trial date down the road," Connors said, while indicating the case may take another year or even two to go to trial if a settlement is not reached beforehand.
The premise of the wrongful death suit is negligence, according to Connors who said he doesn't see the outcome of the criminal case, in which a jury found Corasanti not criminally responsible for Rice's death, as having an adverse effect for the plaintiff's case.
"They are two different cases, two different proceedings, and two different standards of proof as well," said Connors, while noting there have other notable cases where those acquitted of criminal charges in connection with a death are later found culpable in civil court.
One which comes to mind is the 1997 civil trial involving OJ Simpson.
Two years after having been found not guilty of the murders of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman, a civil court jury still found Simpson liable for their deaths, and awarded $33.5 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages to their respective estates.
"There are some rules of law that applied in that case which will apply in our case," Connors said.
Despite being convicted of only a misdemeanor count, Corasanti still faces an investigative review by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which is a division of the New York State Department of Health.
State Health Department spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond declined to comment specifically on Corasanti's case, but told Two On Your Side the investigative review is standard for any doctor convicted of a crime, even a misdemeanor.
Corasanti's review, like all others, would be conducted by a board composed of physicians, physician assistants and lay members who fulfill major roles in the disciplinary process by serving on investigation, hearing and license restoration committees. The hearing committee, which is composed of two physicians and one layperson, makes a finding of guilt or innocence and imposes a penalty if appropriate.
According to Hammond, the Board for Professional Medical Conduct has the authority to revoke or suspend a physician's license. The board can also limit a physician's license, issue a censure and reprimand, order education and/or retraining, levy a fine, or require community service.
By virtue of the verdict in his criminal trial, Corasanti avoided a lengthy prison term and what would have almost certainly been the revocation of his medical license.
Two On Your Side asked Connors if it would be better for the plaintiffs--in terms of seeking damages-that Corasanti be allowed to continue to work and to earn money.
"To the extent that more of his economic gain is available that makes it easier for the plaintiff....but the (Rice) family has made it clear from the beginning that it's not about the money," said Connors. "What they're interested in is justice and they felt as though they didn't get justice last (Wednesday) evening so we're going to press on and pursue it.""