The man who is awaiting sentencing for drunkenly driving into a crowd of people watching this year's Endymion parade is facing another legal problem.
One of the 32 people Neilson Rizzuto hit with his truck sued him for damages in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Thursday, arguing that she is in financial crisis because of the physical and mental injuries he inflicted on her.
Allison Reinhardt is the first person to sue Rizzuto, 26, who pleaded guilty in October to plowing into the crowd of parade spectators in Mid-City on Feb. 25 while his blood-alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit of .08 percent.
Reinhardt, the 41-year-old co-founder of the youth music and mentorship program Roots of Music, also sued Rizzuto's father, saying he had reason to suspect his son had a substance abuse problem when he bought the younger Rizzuto a truck and insurance for it.
Other defendants are the city of New Orleans — which Reinhardt accuses of creating a dangerous situation by letting motorists drive so close to the parade route — and Rizzuto's insurance company, USAA.
Reinhardt alleges USAA paid out Rizzuto's policy limit of $30,000 on "a first-come first-serve basis," meaning the claims of only three of his 32 victims were covered. She was not one of those three, and her suit says the company should have evaluated all of the claims before paying out the limit, which she called the minimum liability coverage required in Louisiana.
One by one, the victims took the stand. Some were merely battered when Neilson Rizzuto drunkenly plowed his truck through a crowd of people wa…
Neither an attorney for Rizzuto nor USAA immediately responded to requests for comment on Reinhardt's lawsuit, which she filed without an attorney.
According to Reinhardt, the single mother of a college student, she was watching Endymion from the neutral ground at Orleans and North Carrollton avenues when she became the second person Rizzuto barreled into after he lost control of his truck.
Her lawsuit says she was conscious as she was trapped on the truck's grille until it crashed into a dump truck. The wreck left her with a fractured left collarbone, a dislocated left shoulder, broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken arm.
"In all honesty, I did not think I had my legs attached to my body at the scene of the accident," Reinhardt's suit says. "I'm very grateful to be alive, but my injuries have put me in a financial crisis."
Since the crash, she said, she has paid out of pocket for counseling as she copes with post-traumatic stress disorder and has been relying on a friend to provide her pro bono physical therapy.
Reinhardt said she's due $15,000 from her insurance company, but the firm won't pay her until she resolves outstanding medical bills from Medicaid and University Medical Center, where 21 people were taken the night of the crash. She has asked the hospital and Medicaid for help in resolving those bills, but in the meantime the money is tied up, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit cites other unexpected expenses that added up when a friend — in town from New York City for the parade — had to move in with her for a few months because he was hurt in the wreck as well and required a wheelchair that wouldn't fit in his apartment.
"I did not cause this accident," said Reinhardt, who described working a full-time job and two part-time jobs to put her son through school. "I just don't understand why I have to be responsible for the financial obligations that I did not cause."
Police arrested Rizzuto following the accident, when he registered a .232 blood-alcohol level. Prosecutors charged him with 25 criminal counts. He pleaded guilty to 13 misdemeanors in September, then pleaded guilty in October to one more misdemeanor as well as the 11 felony charges against him.
Each of the felonies carries a maximum five-year sentence.
Reinhardt was among several victims to address Rizzuto in court in October.
“In just the flash of a second … you really changed a lot of people’s lives," Reinhardt said to the shackled Rizzuto, who cried as he heard her speak. "And not only the ones who were injured, but everybody who cares about the injured person had to go through it.”
Rizzuto is expected to deliver a statement when he is sentenced Jan. 12 by Criminal District Court Judge Ben Willard.
Second District Lt. Jennifer Dupree and Det. Michael DiMarco recall a chaotic scene after alleged drunk driver Neilson Rizzuto bulldozed throu…