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’08 crash death lawsuit is settled

Deal averts trial in drunken-driving accident case

Debra Davis’ parents, Maryann and Steve, with Nina Houlihan.

Gratchen Ertl for The Boston Globe

Debra Davis’ parents, Maryann and Steve, with Nina Houlihan.

DEDHAM — Just minutes before a trial was scheduled to begin, a settlement was reached in a wrongful death suit filed by the parents of a Milton woman killed in a drunken-driving crash after a 2008 concert at Gillette Stadium.

Lawyers for the family of Debra Davis and the Kraft Group, which owns Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots, agreed to settle the suit Monday after last-minute negotiations at the courthouse, averting a trial that was expected to last two weeks.

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Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the Davis family said they were glad to put the matter behind them.

“We waited a long time, and we’re happy it’s come to a close,” Davis’s mother, MaryAnn , said outside Norfolk Superior Court. “It’s been five years of pain and suffering.”

Lawyers for the Kraft Group declined to comment.

The Davis family had been seeking $2.5 million from the Kraft Group, arguing that it was liable for the single-car crash that killed the 20-year-old because they did not do enough to curb underage drinking outside a country music festival.

Alexa Latteo (left) was driving the car in which she and Debra Davis were killed.

Alexa Latteo (left) was driving the car in which she and Debra Davis were killed.

Davis and two other young women left the festival after tailgating in the parking lot, and their car hit a tree about a mile from the stadium. The driver, Alexa Latteo, had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit when she veered off Route 1, authorities said.

Latteo, 19, was killed, and passenger Nina Houlihan was severely injured.

Lawyers for the Kraft Group had argued that the crash was not the company’s fault and that the three women brought alcohol to the tailgate illegally, and did not have tickets to the concert.

“They had no right to be where they were,” Douglas Fox, a lawyer for the Kraft Group, said at a court hearing in November 2012.

Joseph Borsellino, who represented the Davis family and Houlihan, argued at the hearing that the Kraft Group was negligent by not cracking down on excessive drinking in the parking lot.

As the afternoon wore on, the tailgating party grew out of control, he said.

It was “foreseeable that someone was going to get killed,” he said at the time.

In 2007, stadium officials had enacted a “no ticket, no entry’’ policy to deter underage drinkers from tailgating, but never enforced the rule, the suit claimed.

After the November hearing, Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady ruled that the case could proceed to trial. On Monday, he praised both sides for reaching a settlement.

“I congratulate you,” he said.

Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said the settlement protects both sides from the “unpredictable nature of the jury system.”

“Both parties have a lot to gamble by going in front of a jury,” he said.

For the Kraft group, the last-minute deal was a “smart business judgment” that also avoids the public attention of a trial, he said.

“They are protecting their reputation,” he said.

MaryAnn Davis said she believes that security at Gillette has improved, and she thanked Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary for his efforts to curb underage drinking outside the stadium.

“We’re grateful for that,” she said, adding that she believes the crash and the lawsuit have helped raise awareness about the dangers that tailgating parties pose to minors and the need for stricter oversight.

O’Leary could not be reached for comment.

Davis said her daughter was “a good young lady” and that she “made a bad choice.”

Her husband, Steve Davis, whose sister was allegedly murdered by convicted gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, fought back tears as he spoke with a lawyer from the Kraft Group after the settlement was announced.

Outside the courthouse, he was asked if there was one thing he wanted people to remember about his daughter. Davis paused. For nearly 15 seconds, he did not speak.

“I don’t know what to say,” he finally said, before walking away with his wife.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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