Personal Injury

Money can’t compensate for death of loved one: Grillo


TORONTO — A fatal boat crash on an Ontario lake this summer has prompted a wrongful death lawsuit against celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary and his wife Linda O'Leary, who was driving their vessel.

In an untested and unproven statement of claim, relatives of a Susanne Brito — one of two people who died in the collision — seek $2 million in damages from the O'Learys as well as from the driver and owner of the second boat.

The crash occurred on Lake Joseph in Seguin, Ont., late one night in August when the O'Learys' boat, with Brito aboard, collided with one driven by Richard Ruh, 57, of Orchard Park, N.Y.

A Florida accountant, Gary Poltash, 64, who was on Ruh's boat, died at the scene. Brito, 48, a woman from Uxbridge, Ont., was critically injured and died in hospital.

“Suddenly and without warning, the O'Leary power boat violently struck the Ruh power boat, causing Susanne Brito to suffer serious personal injuries, resulting in her death,” the claim states.

In an interview with, Toronto personal injury lawyer Salvatore Grillo says the burden of proof in a wrongful death claim is the same as in other personal injury claims — a plaintiff has to show on a balance of probabilities that the victim’s death was caused by the defendant’s negligence or intentional and wrongful action.

“Wrongful death claims are brought under the Family Law Act, a statute that entitles the spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters of the person to compensation when a person is injured or killed through the fault of another,” says Grillo, founder and principal of Grillo Law Personal Injury Lawyers.

“Although there is no way to replace a person’s life, and no amount of money can ever truly compensate for the death of a loved one, Ontario law does provide family members damages such as lost care and companionship and future earning potential of the deceased,” he says.

Grillo says that while the amount sought in the claim represents the maximum value the plaintiffs are seeking, ultimately any damages awarded will depend entirely on the facts of the case, including the nature of the relationship between the plaintiffs and the deceased, and whether the plaintiffs were dependent on her, financially or otherwise.

“Notably, the Court of Appeal has set a high watermark of approximately $140,000 for loss of care, guidance, and companionship,” he says. “Additional damages may be awarded for the loss of income the deceased would have provided the family, and for any punitive damages awarded to punish the defendants for any conduct leading to the tragic accident that is found to be egregious or reprehensible.”

Grillo, who is not involved in the matter and comments generally, says in his experience the most challenging aspect of wrongful death claims is the sensitive nature of a family’s loss as the litigation process requires family members to participate and if necessary, give evidence at a trial, which is emotionally taxing.

When someone is injured or killed in an accident, he says it’s vital to seek legal advice immediately.

“This family is doing the right thing, and their lawyer will strive to seek their maximum entitlement under the law,” Grillo says. “While no amount can ever bring back a loved one, I hope that this family can at least find some peace through a resolution of their claim.”

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Oshawa, Ont., argues Brito's death was the result of negligence.

Among other things, it argues Kevin O'Leary, 65, of Toronto, knew or should have known that his 56-year-old wife was “incapable of operating the power boat with due care and attention but let her drive anyway even though she had a propensity for speeding and had no licence.

“He negligently entrusted his power boat to the defendant, Linda O'Leary, when he knew, or ought to have known, that she was an inexperienced and unsafe driver,” the claim states.

The claim also asserts Linda O'Leary failed to keep a proper lookout, was driving too fast, and failed to heed the horn of the Ruh boat, owned by Irv Edwards, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., who is also a defendant.

“She suddenly and without warning drove the O'Leary power boat directly into the path of the Ruh power boat,” the claim asserts.

Police charged Linda O'Leary, who broke her foot in the crash, with careless operation of a vessel. She could not immediately be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Brian Greenspan, has previously said she was driving at a reasonable speed.

The lawsuit similarly argues Kevin O'Leary failed to keep a proper lookout, didn't have proper training or a boat-operator licence, and failed to give the other boat the right of way. It also asserts he had a history of poor vision, and that health professionals had advised him against operating a power boat or only under limited circumstances.

Kevin O'Leary is not facing any charges in the incident.

The suit seeks punitive and aggravated damages as well as general damages from the O'Learys.

“Our family has lost a beautiful, loving person,” Brito's mother Rosa Ragone said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are devastated. We sincerely hope that through this process, that justice is served.”

— with files from

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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