Ninety-two-year-old Luella Wilson won't lose her home and life savings after all. A court settlement, reached Tuesday as her negligence trial began, effectively overturned a 1987 jury verdict that penalized her for loaning her great-nephew the money to buy a car that he drove off a bridge.
Before the settlement, Mrs. Wilson was in danger of losing her home, 80 acres of property and her savings, with a total value of $950,000.
But shortly after noon Tuesday, she received a telephone call from her lawyer telling her she had won the case.
Sitting at her kitchen table, drinking a shot of whiskey, Mrs. Wilson said, "I don't feel very damned good. I can't walk, but I did win."
The case grew out of Mrs. Wilson's decision in 1984 to loan Willard Stuart the money to buy a car, despite his poor driving record and lack of a driver's license.
Shortly after that, Stuart drove the car off a bridge after drinking beer and whiskey and smoking marijuana with a group of young men. One of his companions, Mark Vince, was seriously injured. He later had a leg amputated, and sued Mrs. Wilson. A 1987 jury found her liable and ordered her to pay Vince $950,000, which amount to all of her assets.
While refusing to reverse the 1987 decision on appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court later ruled that a jury should decide whether Ace Auto of Bennington and its president and salesman in the deal, Gary Gardner, should share the liability for selling the car to Stuart.
No details were released on the amount that Vince will be paid by the insurance companies for Mrs. Wilson and Ace Auto.