A drunk billionaire kills a struggling college student on a dark Florida road and walks off into the night. A $46 Million Dollar settlement in a wrongful death suit, a multimillion dollar Dram shop settlement with the Players Club Bar for overserving the drunk driver, and a vehicular manslaughter trial all with enough bizarre twists to be a late night movie. The one thing we can be happy of is that the guilty drunk was convicted was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
John Goodman is by all accounts a wealthy, powerful presence in the world of polo and founder of the International Polo Club. Charismatic and described as a bon vivant, he attended a celebrity bartender event the night of the tragic crash at the White Horse Tavern and then went to lady’s night at the Players club. The bar tab included Irish Car Bombs, Mind Erasers and Tequila and hours after the crash Goodman’s blood alcohol was .177, almost three times the legal limit in Georgia.
According to the trial testimony,Goodman left the bar, blew through a stop sign going 63 miles per hour and T-boned a Hyndai driven by a sober 23 year old headed to meet family. The Hyndai was knocked into a canal and the young man drowned.
Goodman admits that he walked away from the crash site with a broken wrist but claimed at trial that he did not realize he hit another car. He eventually called 911 from a farm nearby.
At his criminal trial in March his story was that he did not drink until after the crash. He called famous Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras to testify that Goodman was not drinking at the first bar. The prosecutors could not produce a witness to Goodman drinking other than the bartab. Given that factual opening, Goodman claimed that he was in pain and found alcohol at a “man cave” at the local polo barn and chugged the alcohol there. I realize he probably told his lawyers to beat the charge but that is the most outrageous lie I have ever heard and the jury agreed. They found him guilty of all charges and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He is currently appealing the conviction.
That thin defense is interesting but not unusual. What is wilder is the civil side of the case. We are Atlanta wrongful death lawyers so we are used to outrageous facts when it comes to the alcohol side but asset tricks are more rare.
Goodman had protected his assets well over the years and had created an irrevocable trust for reportedly over $200 million in assets in favor of his kids. In the middle of the civil litigation he adopted his girlfriend as his daughter to give her beneficiary status under the trust and allegedly to allow him access to some funds through her while insulating himself from the civil suit. Yes, you read that right. He adopted his girlfriend as his daughter.
It is fair to assume that Goodman had substantial umbrella and personal insurance policies but I believe that of the $46,000,000 civil settlement, he must have paid out some of his own cash. It is also possible that there was a $1,000,000 primary policy and $45,000,000 in excess coverage.
Florida has a similar dram shop law to Georgia’s where you must prove that the bar knowingly served a visibly intoxicated customer. Word on the street is that the bar paid out $6,000,000 through its insurance. How does that do the world any good you ask? Well that bar will have a very hard time obtaining insurance without instituting serious policies to keep from overserving their very wealthy customers and allowing them to drive home.
Nothing will bring the young man home and some decry the amount of the settlement but the reality is that the $43,000,000 is to punish this man for making a tragic and obvious mistake and then walking away from the victim as he drowned. Money can be compensation but in the DUI and wrongful death setting in Georgia, it can be as much about punishment as anything else.
Here is a good article for some follow up reading. http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime/jurors-find-goodman-guilty-of-dui-manslaughter-wellington-2256085.html