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Reversal of Fortune

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The Grubman camp finds the idea that Lizzie somehow geared herself into a sociopathic fit and decided to rumble over a crowd of friends at her favorite club rather ludicrous. The defense: It's obviously a tragedy and obviously an accident.

If it's ruled an accident and Lizzie can escape criminal charges, Allen's substantial insurance could cover everyone's pain and suffering, sources close to Grubman insist. The lawyers seem confident that Allen has insurance to cover reasonable claims, and that lawsuits like $21 million (Conlon) and $30 million (Manhattan record executive Adam Wacht, who has a shattered ankle) are not reasonable.

"Allen's a wealthy guy," says a source, "and he carries a lot of insurance. I cannot -- cannot -- imagine that these claims would exceed his insurance. I just think that would be virtually impossible. In some cases, people will ask for $100 million and get $200,000, $500,000. Unless you die or are crippled, the injuries are not worth more than $300,000, $500,000, a million. Twenty-one million? There's just no way they're getting up to those numbers. The insurance company may look to have Allen pay some of the claim himself, depending on the degree of recklessness."

So Allen won't suffer much financially -- not that he isn't suffering. "He's got a daughter facing jail time," says one source. "That's not exactly being bulletproof."

Peggy Siegal, Lizzie Grubman's partner of the past year, is suffering, too, having sustained substantial collateral P.R. damage since the tragedy. Some are gleefully predicting that if Grubman goes down, Siegal's at last going down, too. But while Siegal's hung up on her share of reporters this week seeking comment on Grubman, she doesn't seem excessively worried about the future of Lizzie Grubman/Peggy Siegal Public Relations. "I feel really badly for Lizzie," says Siegal, "and personally, I'm very upset. I'm saddened by the whole incident. It was a horrible accident. But we're doing our best to conduct business as usual."

Many observers see an enormous irony in what's happened to Siegal and Grubman. Peggy, high-strung, tends to blow up. Lizzie, the firm's good cop, calls up five minutes later and smooths things over. She spun her own publicity as well. Grubman became known in the press as Britney Spears's publicist. "She threw Britney Spears a birthday party," sniffs a competitor.

Grubman's success, especially considering that she had been born on third base, made for no small amount of envy -- and fueled a certain cat-fight thread of the narrative. When Lara Shriftman showed up at Bridgehampton Polo the weekend after the incident, a Grubman friend stormed up to her and hissed, "I can't believe, of all people, you had the nerve to show up." No wonder. Just the day before, the Post had Shriftman crowing "We're the king of the world" on the day after the crash and reported that Shriftman had taken a table at a restaurant across the street from Grubman's Manhattan apartment, to gloat over the camera-crew madness. Shriftman, sources insist, was at the bedside of her grandfather, who has cancer, and had actually sent a note to Grubman the day after the accident offering sympathy about her mother and assuring her she would avoid the press.

In the Hamptons the weekend after the crash, the mood was electric -- like a nasty, pulsing shock. The ugliness of the gossip seemed to surprise even those who were engaged in it. Many jumped to the conclusion that it had been latent, that something had been consuming the Hamptons from below while the party raged. Everyone became a social critic, Bonfire of the Vanities swiftly rewriting itself as Bonfire of the Platitudes. "The Hamptons as we know them have burned down at last," said R. Couri Hay, the society columnist. Meanwhile, the level of press interest seemed to suggest that something world-historical had occurred. But what was it? "I've been around a long time, and I've never seen this kind of attention," says Howard Rubenstein. "Except maybe with the president of the United States. Certainly not about a publicist."

And in every layer of the Hamptons' remarkably complex social archaeology, people staked out their positions. "I'm no 'townie,' " said an owlish man at the Southampton Parrish Art Museum benefit. Given his houndstooth-check jacket and his thick eyeglasses the yellowy-gray color of Ricard, he was stating the obvious. "But I think it's despicable. To leave people lying on the road and flee the scene?"

"I'm sure it does seem despicable -- if you're the sort of guy who would wear lobster pants," murmurs one East Hamptonite, just out of earshot.

At Bridgehampton Polo a photographer claimed to have been jostled by the security guys, knocking his $5,000 digital camera to the turf. Satellite mogul and polo player Neil Hirsch had to amble over to intervene. Meanwhile, word circulated inside the tent that a security guard was clipped by a driver looking to squeeze into a parking spot -- only to be thrown on the ground and arrested by a number of cops.

"It's Lizzie II," said one partygoer.

"Class war," answered another. "With cars!"


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