The dealer's story is that one day Feldhouse had been drinking and took one of the cars for a spin. O'Sullivan received a phone call about the incident, confronted Feldhouse and fired him, since he never had permission to drive any vehicles. Feldhouse also was reportedly told he could no longer stay at the dealership and had to turn in the keys to the business. However, O'Sullivan claims that on the night of the accident, Feldhouse returned to the dealership and stole one of its vehicles.
Flood, on behalf of his client, sued not only sued Feldhouse, but also O'Sullivan, CK Auto Wholesalers and Coddington Automotive, of Plainville, which owned the auto wholesaler.
The latter three defendants claimed they were not liable, as Feldhouse did not have permission to drive the dealer's car. However, Flood noted that charges were never pressed against Feldhouse for allegedly breaking in and stealing the car. "There were a number of statements [the defendants] had given to their insurance company and they were entirely inconsistent," said Flood.
The car Feldhouse crashed had been purchased at an auction and had Coddington Automotive dealer plates on it. But there was a dispute, Flood said, over who truly owned the car. And there was another dispute over who had been Feldhouse's employer Coddington Automotive or O'Sullivan in his individual capacity.
O'Sullivan waivered on the question, first pointing to Coddington before ultimately saying the homeless man worked for him. Coddington executives said they did not even know who Feldhouse was. He could not be located and did not appear at the trial; Flood believes he remains homeless.
There was a further complication: Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co., which insured the Coddington Automotive vehicle, chose not to defend Feldhouse and stated it would only represent Coddington. O'Sullivan chose to represent himself and CK Auto Wholesalers pro se.
Meriden Superior Court Judge Vernon Oliver presided at a trial that lasted for about four days. Representing Coddington's insurance company was James Shields, of Sharp, Shields & Smith in Rocky Hill. Shields could not be reached for comment for this article.
Because Empire Fire & Marine would not defend Feldhouse, Flood filed a claim against his client's insurer, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, for uninsured motorist benefits. Amica reached a pre-trial settlment with Scavone for $262,500.
At trial, Flood pointed to a Connecticut statute that states that when the driver of a motor vehicle is not the owner, he is presumed to be the agent of the owner and driving the vehicle in the course of his employment, unless the defendant can prove otherwise.
The jury apparently did not believe the defendants' arguments that Feldhouse worked entirely for O'Sullivan and that Feldhouse took the car without permission. After deliberating for a little over two hours, the jury held all the defendants liable. Because reckless driving was involved, a damages award of roughly $563,000 was doubled, by statute, resulting in the final verdict of $1,127,016.