How much should it cost to tackle a U.S. senator and break half a dozen of his ribs? That’s the question at issue in a trial that got underway Monday in circuit court in Bowling Green before Judge Tyler Gill.
The civil complaint pits U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green, against his neighbor, retired anesthesiologist Rene Boucher, who admitted assaulting Paul in November 2017.
Boucher, 60, attacked Paul after cleaning up yard waste Paul had piled on their property line several times, only to see Paul starting another mess, the neighbor’s attorney said Monday.
Paul, 55, pushed back strongly against the suggestion he’d done anything to prompt the attack, however, saying he never piled limbs or other waste on the property line.
Paul testified that when Rene Boucher tackled him Nov. 3, 2017, he immediately began having trouble breathing and, with Boucher still on his back, had the thought that he might die.
“The thought crossed my mind, ‘I may never get up from this lawn,’” Paul told jurors.
Paul is seeking up to $500,000 in damages to compensate him for pain and suffering and up to $1 million to punish Boucher.
The issue is not whether Boucher attacked Paul, but how much Boucher should have to pay Paul.
Boucher pleaded guilty in federal court to assaulting Paul. He served 30 days in jail, paid a $10,000 fine and performed 100 hours of community service, according to his attorney, Matthew Baker. However, federal prosecutors are pushing for a longer sentence for him. Advisory federal guidelines called for a sentence of at least 21 months.
Paul’s civil complaint is a separate case, but he said during testimony that he felt the federal sentence for Boucher was not adequate.
He said he sued because he feels Boucher deserves more punishment and also to deter violence by Boucher or others.
“You just can’t let people get away with this kind of stuff,” Paul said.
Paul, an ophthalmologist by training who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, and Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist, have lived next door to each other in an upscale subdivision in Bowling Green since about 2000.
Baker said in his opening argument that Paul was unhappy when Boucher trimmed limbs in the summer of 2017 from several maple trees on their property line that Paul had planted years before.
Boucher trimmed the limbs that were sticking over on his side of the line, Baker said.
After that, Paul piled yard waste on their line, and Boucher hauled it away to keep the peace, Baker said.
The next month, in October 2017, Paul piled up more waste and Boucher again hauled it away, Baker said.
After Paul piled up still more waste, Boucher tried to burn it on Nov. 2, 2017 with gasoline and suffered second-degree burns on his face, neck and arms, Baker said.
The next day, Boucher was watching from his house as Paul mowed.
Boucher lost his temper and attacked Paul because he was “reconstructing yet another pile of yard trash,” Baker told jurors.
When Paul got off the mower to move a stick, Boucher ran 60 yards and tackled him from behind. Paul was wearing noise-canceling headphones and did not hear Boucher coming.
Paul said he had piled brush and burned it on his property for years, and Boucher had never complained to him.
He said he had not piled waste on the line, but rather well inside the line on his own property.
“I’m not doing it to spite anybody,” he said.
Paul said he thinks his ribs broke when he hit the ground with Boucher on top of him. He had six broken ribs, with three of them broken in half, allowing the ends to grind together.
Paul said he was able to reach around and get Boucher off his back.
“He said something about this is going to end or else,” Paul testified.
Paul said he was concerned that Boucher might continue the attack, so he went into his house and called his wife and neighbors for help.
He also called a doctor he knew and went to his office for an evaluation, avoiding going to the emergency room because he wanted to avoid publicity.
Paul said that in addition to alarming trouble breathing, he experienced great pain.
“I can’t describe how bad the pain was,” he said. “A hiccup would take me to my knees.”
His wife, Kelly, had to stand over him in the bed and help pull him up, Paul said, and it took 15 minutes or so to maneuver him gingerly into a car.
Paul said he wanted to avoid narcotic painkillers because of the risk of addiction, so took only ibuprofen to deal with the pain.
Paul had fluid on his lungs and two bouts of pneumonia.
Baker indicated to jurors that he doesn’t think Paul deserves much in compensatory damages, saying he wasn’t admitted to the hospital after the attack, didn’t take narcotic painkillers, lost no wages and has been able to return to activities such as golfing and playing in a Congressional charity baseball game.
Paul has had no more than $8,000 in medical costs and does not deserve any punitive damages, Baker said.
Paul pushed back against questions from Baker. Gill at one point admonished him to listen to the question before answering.
Paul acknowledged he’s been able to return to normal activities, but said he still suffers pain, impaired lung capacity and limits on his movement.
“I just don’t think it’s fair that I have to live my life with this pain over something somebody did to me,” Paul said.
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