MINNEAPOLIS – The family of a Thai restaurant chef who died after he was struck by a sport utility vehicle last August has settled its wrongful death lawsuit with former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser and his wife, Amy, attorneys announced Friday.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The announcement comes a day after Amy Senser, 45, was convicted of two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide for the Aug. 23 accident that killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38. Senser was driving her husband's Mercedes when she struck Phanthavong as he was pouring gas into his stalled car on a dark freeway exit ramp.
"No financial settlement will ever replace what the family has lost," said Phanthavong family attorney Jim Schwebel. "The Phanthavongs will get on with their lives, but they will never really be the same people. There is a permanent hole torn in the fabric of this family."
Schwebel said Phanthavong came to the U.S. from Laos 23 years ago and had a close relationship with his brother and three sisters. He also cared for his immigrant parents and was a "keystone" for the family.
The accident happened after Phanthavong pulled to the side of a highway exit ramp when his car ran out of gas. He was filling the car's tank when he was hit, but the other driver didn't stop. Authorities sought the public's help in finding the driver.
Nearly 24 hours later, defense attorney Eric Nelson called authorities to tell them they could pick up the vehicle involved at the Sensers' house. But the Sensers didn't talk to police, fueling speculation about who was driving and whether alcohol was involved.
It was more than a week later that Amy Senser admitted she was driving. She insisted all along that she didn't see Phanthavong, and she testified during her criminal trial that she thought she struck a pothole or orange construction barrel.
Senser was convicted Thursday of leaving the scene of an accident and failure to promptly report an accident, both criminal vehicular homicide charges. She could get four years in prison when sentenced in July.
Nelson said Thursday that he would appeal. He said Amy Senser "is not the type of person who would knowingly leave a man on the road to die."
Schwebel said the conviction and settlement bring some closure to family members, who sued the Sensers in September — back when few details about the accident were known. Schwebel said a settlement was reached before the criminal trial started, but was not disclosed because attorneys didn't want to contaminate the criminal case.
While the settlement amount was confidential, Schwebel said it was "well over" the more than $50,000 claimed in the lawsuit. In Minnesota, plaintiffs are required to list whether damages will be more or less than $50,000, and an exact amount is determined at trial.
The settlement is covered by auto liability insurance that was in effect on Joe Senser's vehicle.
Brian Wood, the Sensers' civil attorney, said the accident was tragic and Amy Senser is relieved the matter was settled.
If the civil case had gone to trial, attorneys would have had to prove negligence by a "preponderance of evidence," showing Senser failed to use reasonable care. Schwebel said that much was obvious, as Senser failed to see Phanthavong's emergency flashers, failed to see him in her vehicle's headlights, and failed to travel at a reasonable speed.
"There was no doubt we would have proven her negligence was a direct cause of the death of Anousone Phanthavong," Schwebel said.
In the criminal trial, jurors had a higher burden of proof. In order to convict Senser, they had to find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Dwight Seward, one of the jurors, told The Associated Press on Friday that much of the discussion focused on whether Senser saw the victim.
"Maybe she did, maybe she didn't, we'll never know. Based on the evidence there was no question the elements of the charges were satisfied," he said. "I believed part of her testimony was plausible, and then things started to fall apart in terms of credibility."
He declined to elaborate.
The case was one of Minnesota's most closely watched criminal trials in years, with overtones of a cover-up and a defendant married to a well-known figure in the state. Senser's husband, Joe Senser, was a tight end for the Vikings in the early 1980s and has remained visible as a game commentator and as owner of restaurants in his name.
Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed to this report.
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