Dead woman's sister seeking $1M from ex-rep., bar

AP News
Posted: Mar 22, 2011 4:26 PM
Dead woman's sister seeking $1M from ex-rep., bar

Two years after a Connecticut woman was found frozen to death in several inches of snow, her sister is asking a state judge to secure $1 million in assets apiece from a former state lawmaker and a Cromwell tavern in case she wins a lawsuit blaming them for the death.

A lawyer for Lorraine Sinisgalli, who is co-executor of Carol Jean Sinisgalli's estate, filed a motion in New Britain Superior Court late last month seeking to attach properties owned by former Cromwell state Rep. James O'Rourke and O'Leary's Digger McDuff's Tavern and prevent them from selling their properties or disposing of them in other ways. A status hearing on the motion is scheduled for next Monday.

Lorraine Sinisgalli filed the lawsuit in February 2010, accusing O'Rourke and the tavern of negligence and recklessness in her sister's death. Her recent motion revealed for the first time that she is seeking at least $1 million in damages from both O'Rourke and the bar.

Lawyers for O'Rourke, who lost his re-election bid in November, and the bar deny the allegations. They said Tuesday that they will challenge Sinisgalli's application for a prejudgment remedy.

Carol Jean Sinisgalli's body was found by a cross-country skier in several inches of snow near train tracks in Rocky Hill on the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2009. Her sister claims she was kicked out of the tavern with no coat or shoes the previous night in 14-degree weather after an altercation with another patron.

The lawsuit says O'Rourke, who also was at the tavern that night, tried to drive Sinisgalli, an acquaintance, to her home in Rocky Hill, but Sinisgalli was "dropped off and/or exited" the car along the way in a dark and isolated area and became disoriented. The longtime Department of Motor Vehicles employee was 41.

Lorraine Sinisgalli says tavern employees shouldn't have kicked her sister out of the bar without her coat, shoes and other belongings, and O'Rourke should have done something to prevent her from wandering off in freezing temperatures when he knew she was impaired.

Sinisgalli's attorney didn't immediately return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

O'Rourke, who was investigated by police but never charged in the death, said in a statement to authorities that he left the tavern at about the same time as Carol Jean Sinisgalli and she jumped into the back seat of his car. He said he was trying to drive her home when she became belligerent and knocked down his rearview mirror, garage door opener and glasses before jumping out of the car.

O'Rourke told police he didn't know Sinisgalli was barefoot.

"I believe that when she left the car, she was close to her home and knew where she was going," O'Rourke told police in his written statement.

O'Rourke's attorney, Steven Seligman, and the bar's lawyer, Joseph Andriola, said Tuesday that they oppose the motion to secure assets.

"Mr. O'Rourke denies any responsibility for her death," Seligman said.

Andriola added, "The case has absolutely no merit and the only one to blame is the woman herself."

Andriola alleged that Sinisgalli was under the influence of alcohol, Prozac and cocaine and was hallucinating at the bar when she started to fight with other patrons, including a paraplegic man in a wheelchair. He said tavern workers tried to calm her down, but she left on her own accord and got into O'Rourke's car as police were on their way to the bar.

"She started beating up people and screaming," Andriola said. "What is the bar supposed to do? Keep her in there? They tried to protect the patrons."