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“Justice” Loosely Defined for the Super-Rich in Wrongful Death

Every year in the United States, roughly 12,000 people are killed as the result of driving under the influence. This includes both the drunk drivers and their victims. In Florida alone, a staggering 36% of traffic fatalities in which alcohol was a factor resulted in death. Sadly, drunk drivers often flee the scene of the deadly crash and avoid capture. More disturbing is the fact that of the drivers who are caught, the word “justice” may be loosely defined at best- especially for the wealthy in the context of a wrongful death case.

In 2010, South Florida polo mogul John Goodman blew through a stop sign and crashed into the vehicle of 23 year old Scott Wilson. At the time of the accident, authorities say Goodman’s blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit. Scott Wilson, a recent college graduate, died at the scene of the accident.

That same year Ryan LeVin, heir to a Chicago based jewelry distribution fortune, hit and killed two men in South Florida. At 2:30 a.m., LeVin drove his Porche 911 Turbo down busy A1A at high speeds. Why was he driving so fast on a road populated by other cars and pedestrians? He was drag racing. The race resulted in LeVin hitting two men who were crossing the street to return to their hotel. LeVin then fled the scene and returned to his home-state of Illinois. It wasn’t until 2011 that he finally turned himself in and plead guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

Though the facts of these two tragedies differ somewhat, their punishments are pretty similar. While Goodman was originally sentenced to 16 years in prison, a South Florida judge permitted him to serve his sentence on house arrest pending his appeal. Now before you go feeling too bad for him, keep in mind that Goodman’s house is a 5.9 million dollar mansion in Wellington, Florida- complete with tennis courts where he gets his daily exercise.

LeVin- who killed two people and then fled the scene of the crash- was similarly sentenced to only two years of house arrest, followed by 10 years of probation. His “house” is a luxury condo on Ft. Lauderdale Beach, complete with three fitness centers, a spectacular private beach, and relaxing ocean views. While the 10 year probation may seem like a just punishment, let us not forget that LeVin was on probation in Illinois at the time of the deadly Florida accident. He was not even allowed to be in Florida when he plowed into two men and kept right on going. What was he on probation for? A street race that resulted in hitting a pedestrian. Luckily the law enforcement officer he ran over that time survived the crash.

Surely then, his house arrest restrictions must be pretty strict right? Wrong. Since the imposition of his “sentence,” LeVin has taken two court-approved trips to Chicago- one for Christmas, and one for his nieces wedding. Meanwhile, your average drunk driver/killer spends his Christmases, Easters, weddings, and Halloweens in state prison.

At least Goodman and LeVin were both convicted for their crimes. And since they aren’t really “paying” criminally, they must have paid financially, right? Well, yes and no. Both men faced wrongful death lawsuits from the families of the victims. Both men settled those claims out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. Interestingly though, it seems that Goodman took extra measures to avoid liability on the financial front. Last year, he adopted his 42 year old girlfriend. Putting the creepiness of that statement aside, Goodman claims the purpose of the adoption was for “financial planning purposes.” The real effect of the strange adoption however, was that it protected a large portion of his assets- at least $200 million dollars- from attachment by the court. In other words, that is $200 million dollars that the families of Scott Wilson could not get their hands on because it was placed into a trust for his daughter/girlfriend.

LeVin also settled the wrongful death action out court, though he has never issued an actual apology to the families of the two men he mowed down in the middle of A1A. In a recent statement, LeVin’s attorney said “I think he’s grown up a lot. He understands now how he has to stay out of trouble. I think this time around was a real eye opener.” Well, after nearly killing a police officer in Chicago, actually killing two men in South Florida, and a laundry list of other convictions- including fleeing and eluding police officers, cocaine possession, failing to observe traffic devices, speeding, and improper lane passing- we should hope he has.

As you can see, victims of DUI face a litany of concerns in attempting to bring the responsible parties to justice- both criminally and financially. While we do not know the settlement amounts involved in these cases, we can only hope that they justly compensate the families of these victims for their crippling losses.  However, it is impossible to truly place a value on the loss of life.

Thankfully, Florida law provides a statutory remedy for the families of the victims of DUI under its Wrongful Death Statute. Wrongful death is defined as a death caused by “the wrongful act [or] negligence…” of another person. When this happens, the survivors of the deceased can bring suit against the negligent party to recover for their losses, including loss of financial support, companionship, mental pain and suffering, and any medical or funeral expenses incurred.

The Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is committed to representing victims of drunk driving and their families. We support victim advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other organizations focusing on assisting victims of DUI and wrongful death. In addition to the statutory remedies listed above, Florida courts have also held that punitive damages (monetary penalties meant to punish the wrongdoer for his/her negligent acts) are appropriate in DUI cases. Our experienced DUI victim and wrongful death attorneys have successfully recovered both statutory and punitive damages for our past clients. If you have been a victim of drunk driving, or if you lost a family member in a DUI crash, please contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for a free consultation. Although we understand that no amount of money can ever properly compensate you for the loss of a family member, our team of attorneys and investigators will fight to identify the negligent party and bring them to justice under the law. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, “justice” is not a throw-away term used by the super wealthy to help them sleep better in their multi-million dollar homes and Egyptian cotton sheets. To Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, justice means ensuring that the person responsible for your injury or loss pays for what they’ve done- both criminally and financially. Contact us today. 727-451-6900.