WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Wellington polo mogul John Goodman won't have to pony up as much cash as he otherwise would if a jury finds he was negligent in a 2010 alcohol-fueled crash that cost a 23-year-old recent college graduate his life.
In a ruling that hit attorneys desks today, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley decided that Goodman should receive credit for money the Players Club paid the parents of the late Scott Wilson. The popular equestrian bar, which was also named in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lili and William Wilson, reached a confidential settlement with the couple earlier this year.
In a worst-case scenario, Goodman could be forced to pay nothing, attorney Scott Smith, who represents the Wilsons, said of the impact of Kelley's ruling.
"It's just pure math," Smith said. "If the verdict is less than the amount of the settlement then, in theory, John Goodman may not have to pay anything."
Smith said he will ask Kelley to reconsider his decision. Failing that, he said he will either appeal it immediately or at the end of the three-week trial that is scheduled to begin March 27.
Not surprisingly, Goodman's attorney Daniel Bachi said Kelley made the right call. "He nailed it," he said.
Smith said the ruling helps Goodman, 48, immensely. If he loses, the multimillionaire founder of International Polo Palm Beach gets to subtract whatever amount the Players Club paid from the verdict. More importantly, Goodman doesn't have to raise ugly, self-incriminating arguments during the trial.
"He would have had to present evidence that the bar knew he was a habitual drunk and they served him alcohol anyway," Smith said.
According to Florida law, a bar can only be held responsible for a crash if they served a patron, knowing he was an alcoholic or underage. Clearly, they knew Goodman was 21 when they served him before the crash. So, the only way it can be held liable is if they knew he was an alcoholic, Smith said.
Smith unsuccessfully tried to persuade Kelley that the jury should be allowed to decide what percentage the bar was at fault for the fatal crash and what percent of the blame rests with Goodman. Because of the settlement, the bar wouldn't be bound by the jury's decision.
However, Kelley said, such a jury verdict wouldn't make sense in this case. According to the Wilsons' allegations, the bar violated the law by serving Goodman. However, it wouldn't be in trouble if Goodman hadn't been involved in the crash. Conversely, he said, if the Players Club and Goodman violated the law, the bar is responsible for all the harm caused by Goodman.
That means Goodman is entitled to get credit for whatever amount the bar paid, Kelley ruled. How much credit Goodman will receive will be determined after the jury reaches its verdict, he said.
The accident, that occurred in the early hours of Feb. 12, inflamed the community. Goodman, police said, had just left the Players Club when he ran a stop sign at Lake Worth Road and 120th Avenue South. His Bentley plowed into Wilson's Hyundai, forcing it into a nearby canal. Goodman left the scene. Wilson drowned.
The civil trial is to begin shortly after Goodman faces a jury on charges of vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash. Those charges could send him to prison for 30 years.