A high-profile lawsuit accusing a developer and a western New York transport authority of racially inspired negligence in the death of a black teenager was settled today with an agreement that will pay $2.55 million to the dead teen's son.
Taquilo Castellanos, now 4 years old and under the guardianship of his father, will receive a series of payments over several years. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the boy's attorney, said today that he settled the case because the boy's future could be secured.
"This settlement gives this little boy his education . . . and it will come out to about $29 million over his lifetime," said Cochran, referring to the money's investment yield.
Most of the money--$2 million--will be paid by the Pyramid Co. of Buffalo, which built and owns the Walden Galleria shopping mall in suburban Cheektowaga, where Taquilo's mother, Cynthia N. Wiggins, worked. Though agreeing to settle out of court, neither Pyramid--represented by the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly--nor the two other defendants in the case admitted liability in the 1995 traffic accident that killed the teenager.
Albert J. D'Aquino, representing the mall, said both sides made a calculated decision that the settlement was the best way to end the case.
The case raised issues of race and class and highlighted the divisions between America's cities and its suburbs. It became a cause celebre in the region after documents that surfaced in 1996 showed the mall had prohibited Wiggins's bus, the No. 6 from the inner city, from stopping on mall property. Mall officials did not want "riotous youth" from that bus line coming to the mall, according to the documents. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority acquiesced to the developer's claims of private property rights.
Wiggins, 17, an unwed mother, was a clerk in the mall's food court. Though she had other buses to choose from that could have deposited her closer to her job, the No. 6 was the one she chose. But the mall's prohibition on that bus meant that passengers such as Wiggins had to cross a seven-lane roadway to get to the mall. As Wiggins wove through traffic on a rain-slicked day when the roadway was narrowed by high snow banks, a dump truck crushed her to death.
The lawsuit accused Pyramid and the transport authority of wrongful death and negligence because of the decision to keep Wiggins's bus off mall property, as well as the truck company over its driver's alleged inattentiveness.
Pyramid and the transport authority argued that the traffic accident was a result of Wiggins's own choices--such as jaywalking. The racially charged case went to trial before an all-white jury last week in state Supreme Court. Today, Justice Jerome C. Gorski announced that the settlement had been reached.