Holyoke woman’s family wins $9.5M judgment in crosswalk death

  • The daughters of Zoe Rosenthal, shown in an undated photo with a student at The Literacy Project in Northampton, have been awarded over $7 million in a wrongful death suit brought after she was killed by a motorist while crossing the street in Holyoke in November 2017. Mark Nakib/file photo

  • The daughters of Zoe Rosenthal, a popular Holyoke and Northampton teacher killed after being struck by a car in a 2017 accident, have been awarded over $7 million in a wrongful death suit. Carl V Kling Jr./file photo

  • The daughters of Zoe Rosenthal, left, in an undated photo with a student at The Literacy Project in Northampton, have been awarded over $7 million in a wrongful death suit brought after she was killed by a motorist while crossing the street in Holyoke in November 2017 Carl V Kling Jr./file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2021 7:20:04 PM

HOLYOKE — The family of a Holyoke woman killed in a crosswalk in 2017 after she was struck by a driver has been awarded over $7 million in a wrongful death suit.

The complete settlement, including compounded interest, is more than $9.5 million in the case of the late Zoe Rosenthal, a popular teacher with The Literacy Project.

Attorneys representing Rosenthal’s daughters, Tiffany and Chelsea Castillo, alleged the driver, Charles J. Davignon of Holyoke, then 63, was negligent when he made a left turn into the crosswalk, at the intersection of Lyman and Canal streets, on Nov. 27, 2017, and hit Rosenthal, who was 52 at the time.

In a statement, one of those attorneys, Charlotte Glinka, said “This has been a devastating loss to Zoe Rosenthal’s family and to the community of friends and colleagues who adored her.”

And Benjamin Novotny, another attorney, said in a phone call that though the jury award could not bring Zoe Rosenthal back, “It can help [her daughters] establish scholarships or other memorials in her name so that’s she’s not forgotten.”

Rosenthal worked out of the Northampton office of The Literacy Project, an adult education program headquartered in Greenfield that teaches English reading, writing and math to a diverse group of students, of all ages, backgrounds and cultures.

She was a beloved figure in that office, according to people who knew her. “She was more than a teacher to many, many of her students,” Thane Thomsen, a colleague, told the Gazette at the time of her death. “She was a close friend, and a friend they could count on.”

A phone message left Sunday for Davignon, who faced three claims of negligence and three claims of gross negligence in the lawsuit, was not returned. The suit was filed against him, Charles J. Davignon Real Estate Agency Inc., and Davignon Properties LLC.

According to a statement by the Keches Law Group, one of the firms representing the Castillos, the verdict by the Hampden Superior Court jury consists of $3 million for each surviving daughter and $1 million for the “pain and suffering Ms. Rosenthal endured,” plus more than $2.5 million in compounded, pre-judgment interest.

Novotny said one of the witnesses they brought in for the case, an ophthalmologist, testified that Davignon  had extremely limited vision in his left eye, likely preventing him from seeing Rosenthal as he was turning left into the Lyman/Canal street intersection.

“He’s basically legally blind in his left eye,” said Novotny, who added that Davignon’s driver’s license was indefinitely suspended by the state Registry of Motor Vehicles following the fatal accident.

Novotny, a former Massachusetts resident, and his law partner, Nicholas Rowley, joined the suit after initial work by the Keches Law Group. They are part of an Iowa firm, Trial Lawyers for Justice, that specializes in wrongful death, medical malpractice, and injury lawsuits and assists such efforts around the country.

Novotny said that Davignon’s old automobile insurance company offered far less in damages than what the plaintiffs were seeking but then admitted to Davignon’s neglience after just three days of trial, after he and the other attorneys said they planned to introduce eyewitnesses to the case.

Rowley, in a statement, said he was pleased to see the Castillos “finally get justice. For the last three years, the defendant refused to take responsibility for their mother’s death.”

And on his Facebook page, Rowley wrote “I am told by the court clerk [in Springfield] that it’s a record non-economic damages verdict for wrongful death with adult heirs in Western Massachusetts. I hope and pray that someday Insurance companies start treating victims and families fairly.”

No criminal charges were ever brought against Davignon, according to the Hampden District Attorney’s office, which said at the time of the accident that Davignon remained at the scene and cooperated with police.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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