WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — While Lila and William Wilson can seek to punish John Goodman if a jury finds the Wellington polo mogul was responsible for the death of their 23-year-old son, they can't leave him destitute, a Palm Beach County circuit judge has ruled.
Going after $200 million trusts set up for Goodman's two children could do just that, Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley said in an 11-page ruling.
"It is clear that the trusts at issue are irrevocable and that (Goodman) has no ownership interest in the trust assets," Kelley wrote last week. "Moreover, (Goodman) is not a beneficiary of the trusts, has no right to receive distributions of income or profits from the trusts, has no right to borrow money from the trusts and cannot invade the principal."
Therefore, he concluded, letting the Wilsons tell a jury about the trusts in hopes of higher punitive damages would do more than punish Goodman. It could destroy him. And, Kelley ruled, that is not allowed.
"The law in Florida is clear that punitive damages should be painful enough to deter but cannot bankrupt the defendant," he wrote. "To allow the (Wilsons) to place before the jury evidence of assets that could never be used to pay a punitive damage award would invite the jury to enter an award that (Goodman) could not pay."
In a case scheduled for trial in March, the Wilsons will seek millions from Goodman for allegedly causing the February 2010 crash that killed their son, Scott. While driving home from Orlando for his sister's birthday, his car was struck by Goodman's Bentley, police say. Wilson's car careened into a canal where he drowned.
Wilson attorneys Scott Smith and Christian Searcy claim Goodman should be punished for his actions, including leaving the scene and not immediately summoning help. In February, Goodman will be tried on criminal charges that could send him to prison for 30 years.
Smith said Monday that a motion will be filed this week asking Kelley to reconsider his decision. Failing that, he said, they may ask the Fourth District Court of Appeal to reverse it.
At a hearing last month, both said they believe Goodman is benefitting from the trusts that were left to the children by Goodman's father, who built an air conditioning empire in Texas. On Goodman's advice, the trusts bought property, including a 78-acre horse farm next to the International Polo Club Palm Beach, which Goodman founded, Searcy said. Goodman now pays rent to live on the property, he said.
Also on Monday, Smith asked Kelley to bar Goodman's attorneys from telling a jury about a confidential settlement the Wilsons reached with the Player's Club, which served Goodman drinks before the crash. Kelley said he would not allow it.