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Billionaire Convicted in Fatal Florida DUI Settles Civil Wrongful Death Suit for $46M

A criminal trial jury in West Palm Beach, Florida (FL), on March 23, 2012, convicted John Goodman of causing a fatal car accident a little more than two years earlier. Evidence presented by the prosecution convinced jurors that the billionaire heir to a heating and air conditioner fortune and polo club founder had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least twice the legal limit at the time of the crash, fled the scene without stopping to check on or assist the victim in the vehicle he hit, and alerted police of the wreck only after going to the bar at his club and calling an employee and his girlfriend.

The man who lost his life survived the initial impact, according to medical reports, but drowned while trapped inside his car after it was pushed into a water-filled drainage ditch by Goodman's vehicle. At trial Goodman attempted to defend himself against a possible 30-year prison sentence by claiming the throttle on his car became temporarily stuck, he did not know he hit another car and he only got drunk after the accident.

Goodman's brazen attempts to avoid his liability for taking another person's life in a DUI/DWI accident become even more shocking when one considers his actions as a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the victim's parents progressed.

While obviously hoping to win an acquittal based on his claims that boil down to little more than "it wasn't me, at that time anyway," the now-48-year-old Goodman legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend. The legal maneuver allowed him to add his companion to a $300 million trust originally set up for his teenaged children from a former marriage. All funds in the trust were exempted from any civil damages awarded to the deceased victim's parents.

Neither strategy succeeded. Goodman was taken directly to jail after his conviction and has now reached a $46 million settlement with the family of the deceased. Only the financial terms of the agreement have been released, and it is unclear whether the monies to be paid include punitive damages. Good Morning America has reported, however, that most of the funds will be paid out through insurance policies rather than Goodman's own accounts.

As a Virginia (VA) and North Carolina NC) personal injury and wrongful death attorney who has a colleague also licensed to practice in Florida, I've seen my share of inexcusable attempts by drunk drivers to blame fatal accidents on any object or circumstance other than their own negligent actions. Still, the Goodman case stands out in this regard. There is simply never any reason a person should drive while under the influence of alcohol or be the individual who caused a hit-and-run crash. Since Goodman committed both heinous acts, I am pleased to know that he has been held both criminally and civilly responsible.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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