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Kraft Group Sued Over Fatal Crash

Maryann and Steve Davis’ daughter, Debra, was killed in a drunk driving accident following a concert at Gillette Stadium in 2008. Their car’s bumper sticker memorializes Debra, and calls for help to stop underage drinking at the now-titled Countryfest. (David Boeri/WBUR)

Maryann and Steve Davis’ daughter, Debra, was killed in a drunk driving accident following a concert at Gillette Stadium in 2008. Their car’s bumper sticker memorializes Debra, and calls for help to stop underage drinking at the now-titled Countryfest. (David Boeri/WBUR)

BOSTON — A lawyer defending a group of companies controlled by Patriots owner Robert Kraft has asked a judge to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit involving underage drinking at Gillette Stadium.

Two young women died and a third was seriously injured in a 2008 car crash caused by drunk driving. All three women had spent the day drinking in the stadium parking lot during the New England Country Musical Festival.

At a hearing Tuesday, the stakes couldn’t have been higher and the sides couldn’t have been farther apart. Even the lawyers contrasted sharply: the younger, shorter, emotional and verbose advocate for the plaintiffs — Joseph Borsellino — versus the taller, polished corporate lawyer for the Kraft Group — Douglas Fox.

In this evidence exhibit photo, Alexa Latteo, left, and Debra Davis are at the festival in 2008. They would be dead within six hours. The car crash occurred on Route 1 in Wrentham. (Courtesy)

In this evidence exhibit photo, Alexa Latteo, left, and Debra Davis are at the festival in 2008. They would be dead within six hours. The car crash occurred on Route 1 in Wrentham. (Courtesy)

Sparing no rod, Fox called the two dead women and their surviving friend “criminal trespassers … who illegally transported alcohol” into Gillette Stadium parking lots.

“Davis, Latteo and Houlihan did not have tickets to attend the concert and had no intention of acquiring tickets to attend the concert,” Fox said.

Debra Davis was the passenger who died. The wrongful lawsuit is in her name. Alexa Latteo, the driver, also died. She had a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit for intoxication. Nina Houlihan survived the crash and has sued for negligence and gross negligence.

“They trespass onto private property with the purpose of committing the crime of ultimately using alcohol and they are seeking to be compensated for the foreseeable consequences of their criminal behavior,” Fox summarized.

Next came Borsellino for the plaintiffs.

“It was foreseeable that somebody was going to get killed and that young people were badly, badly in a depraved situation at the Country Music Festival,” Borsellino said.

Talking briskly, Borsellino laid out the “forseeability” of what happened, which is the key to proving negligence. A year before the 2008 fatal car crash, underage drinking mayhem at the music festival in 2007 prompted a public meeting in Foxborough, where selectmen used the word “riot” to describe what had happened, and the police and fire chief directed the stadium to increase its security.

“And unfortunately they did not take action, and sadly they refused to take action, and people died because of it,” Borsellino said outside the Dedham courtroom.

The Kraft Group’s defense has relied upon a decision reached by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court this year in the case of teenage girl who threw a party while her parents were out of town. One of the guests, who was drunk, crashed his car and his passenger suffered brain damage. But the court ruled that neither the parents nor their daughter was responsible since they did not supply the alcohol. That case was called “Juliano,” but the Juliano defense against the lawsuits here may be shaky.

“This case seems a little bit different than Juliano,” Judge Patrick Brady said.

Brady said it not once, but several times. “I’m not sure Juliano covers this” and “I’m not sure I’ve got a clear-cut decision that governs me here.”

Judge Brady is well-known among lawyers representing plaintiffs as a tough judge. So his statement that he’s not so sure the Kraft Group is like Juliano gives the plaintiffs Davis and Houlihan hope that Brady won’t summarily dismiss their case.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that by Judge Patrick Brady’s own past account, he ruled against plaintiffs in 90 percent of the suits he presides over. In fact, that statistic refers to verdicts that were decided by juries, not by Judge Brady. 

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