Senser, victim's family announce lawsuit settlement

Phanthavong family
Family members of Anousone Phanthavong wait to address the media after a jury found Amy Senser guilty Thursday, May 3, 2012, in Minneapolis, on two felonies in a hit-and-run that killed Phanthavong last year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Amy Senser has settled a civil lawsuit brought by relatives of 38-year old Anousone Phanthavong, who died when Senser hit him with her SUV last August.

The settlement brings an end to the civil side of the Senser case, as she awaits sentencing in her criminal case.

A Hennepin County jury found her guilty of two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide. The 45-year old wife of former Viking Joe Senser now faces four years in prison when she is sentenced in July.

The Phanthavongs' attorney, Jim Schwebel, wouldn't disclose terms of the settlement. But he says the court verdict proves Senser was negligent when she hit and killed Phanthavong.

"Specifically, we were able to obviously prove that she was oblivious to what happened there that night, she didn't see a car with illumuniated four-way flashers, she didn't see Anousone Phanthavong standing alongside of the car despite these bright Mercedes headlights," he said.

At trial, Senser denied knowing she struck and killed Phanthavong as he filled up his stalled car with gas. Senser testified she was looking the other way as she drove up the ramp. At trial she said she thought she had hit a construction barrel.

Schwebel says the Phanthavongs are grateful to have reached a civil settlement and avoid a trial.

"I mean, there was obviously a permanent hole torn into the fabric of this family by the loss of Anousone," he said. "He was the oldest son of an immigrant family, he had a terrific job, he was there three times a week bringing food to his parents, he was a high energy happy person and as a keystone, as a cornerstone to that family that is all gone. They will miss him dearly for the rest of their lives."

Schwebel says the settlement was actually reached before the start of Senser's criminal trial. He says they kept it confidential until now to avoid influencing the jury.

Brian Wood, Senser's civil attorney, says the Sensers are relieved to have resolved the civil case.

"You know, as their lawyer, I really do feel that the big picture was probably tainted a bit because of their notoriety, and people don't get a chance to know really what nice people both of them are," he said. "And when you get attacked so soon after this kind of tragic accident it's tough for all sides so that is why it's great that we've been able to get the civil matter resolved."

While the amount of the settlement wasn't disclosed, in Minnesota, drivers are required to carry a minimum of $30,000 of coverage. People often carry much more than the minimum.

Minneapolis attorney Phil Sieff, a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, has handled many high profile wrongful death cases. He says wrongful death settlements have gone up over past 10 years.

Sieff says it's likely the settlement included the Sensers' entire auto insurance policy plus an additional financial contribution.

"The recovery is based on the loss to the survivors, the loss in terms of financial support, comfort, companionship of the person who died, emotional support the person who died provided the survivors, guidance and those sorts of factors," he said.

Sieff says it's not unusual for a civil case to move forward while a related criminal case is pending. He doubts the notoriety of the criminal case would have influenced the amount of the civil settlement.

Amy Senser will be sentenced July 9.

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