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Palm Beach Wrongful Death Case Takes A Bizarre Turn

On February 12, 2010, John Goodman, founder of the International Polo Grounds, ran a stop sign and crashed his Bentley into Scott Wilson’s car and left the scene by foot. Goodman is a wealthy socialite and heir to a fortune. By the time help arrived, twenty-three (23)-year-old Scott Wilson had drowned, his Hyundai capsized in a drainage ditch at the scene of the crash. His car was pushed from the site of impact into the drainage ditch and the young man sadly could not escape his car in time. Goodman was intoxicated and willingly drove his car drunk that evening. His decision to operate his vehicle while intoxicated illustrates his willful decision and lack of regard for the safety of other motorists. His decision to flee the scene of the car wreck is abhorrent behavior that shows us what kind of person Mr. Goodman truly is. As a Florida drunk driving victim attorney, I can tell you first hand that these senseless tragedies occur far too often.

Goodman is now making an unusual legal move in the wrongful death lawsuit being brought against him by the man’s family. He has ironically adopted his own girlfriend. Heather Laruso Hutchins, 42, is legally John Goodman’s daughter and girlfriend as of October 2011. The Florida newspaper reports that the Wilson family attorneys have deemed the adoption as a stunt to protect Goodman’s wealth from being exposed to a verdict. Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley had previously ruled that the trust set up for Goodman’s two minor children would not be considered as part of Goodman’s financial worth. Therefore, if Hutchins’ name is in the trust, she would be entitled to one third of it and since she is not considered a minor she would be entitled to her money immediately and could share it with her boyfriend who ironically caused the death. This situation has picked up the attention of the national media. The Judge has stated the proposed adoption “take(s) the court into a legal twilight zone”.

Not only is Goodman making quick decisions but he is also trying to convince the Wilson family that he is worth much less than people perceive him to be. “Plaintiffs view the adoption of Ms. Hutchins as a ‘game-changer,’ and as grounds to now include the assets of the children’s trust, at least in some fashion, in the punitive damages calculation,” Judge Glenn Kelly wrote in a court order. Florida state adoption attorney Charlotte Danciu said that Goodman adopting his girlfriend may not be strictly legal. Adoption means the act of creating the legal relationship between parent and child where it did not exist. Unless you intend to create the parent-child relationship, you are violating the letter of the law.

Goodman faces a criminal trial on March 6 for charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash, with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison if convicted. The civil wrongful death trial is scheduled for March 27.

“Nothing in this arrangement with Ms. Hutchins is illegal,” Goodman’s attorney Daniel Bachi says in a statement. “Everything that has been done by Mr. Goodman was done with the intention to preserve and grow the assets of the Trust for his two minor children, even should he personally be unable to continue his historical role in achieving these goals.”

We will continue to follow this story and update you on our blog through the conclusion of trial.

Clearwater DUI Victim Attorney

Matthew A. Dolman, Esq., is a Clearwater based Personal Injury Attorney who limits his practice to first and third party insurance claims relating to an auto accident, motorcycle accident, traumatic brain injury, catastrophic injury, spine injury, insurance carrier bad faith, and wrongful death. Matthew also represents victims of drunk driving related automobile accidents.

Dolman Law Group is a Clearwater based personal injury and civil trial law firm with satellite offices in Bradenton and Melbourne. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group represent plaintiffs only and do not nor will they represent insurance carriers. Dolman Law Group actively litigates personal injury lawsuits in the following counties; Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota.

For more information on Dolman Law Group, and the rights afforded to personal injury victims in the State of Florida, please call Dolman Law at: (727) 451-6900 or email matt@dolmanlaw.com

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765