As a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia who handles a great deal of wrongful death lawsuits from car wrecks and various motor vehicle accidents, I have been watching with interest the coverage of the wrongful death case in Florida involving millionaire John Goodman. Mr. Goodman is currently on trial for DUI manslaughter in which it is alleged he caused the death of another individual in a car wreck while driving drunk. Mr. Goodman, not surprisingly, denies the charges.
Mr. Goodman has well known and highly skilled trial counsel, Roy Black, who represents the wealthiest of the wealthiest Americans when they find themselves in trouble. Mr. Black is presenting a very creative, unique defense, i.e., that Mr. Goodman got drunk AFTER the wreck and was not drunk when the wreck happened and that something malfunctioned with Mr. Goodwin’s Bentley, a very expensive car, causing it to accelerate uncontrollably.
News comes out today that a civil suit against Mr. Goodman by the family of the decedent has settled. This is good for the family of the decedent. It gives them a little sense of closure, to the extent that can ever be had, and gives them a sense of justice, hopefully. In our Civil Justice System, the only justice that can be had by someone wronged is money damages, and there should be no apology made for that, because a jury can not bring a loved one back to life. All a jury can do is to make the wrongdoer pay money damages for justice.
The defense regarding the malfunctioning Bentley may open up an avenue of justice for the family, too. If there is real expert witness testimony that the Bentley did, in fact, malfunction and run out of control on its own, the family would be able to bring a viable case against the car manufacturer. It sounds like through the good work of defense attorney Roy Black half of that work may already be done, because no doubt he has already obtained expert testimony on that issue. Ironically, his client, Mr. Goodman, would be a star witness in a products liability case against Bentley brought by the family of the person Mr. Goodman killed.
Products liability or products safety cases are complex litigation and expensive to bring and prosecute, but given that a person died in this wreck involving this Bentley, the cost and time would be justified. A key to a viable cause of action would be preservation of the Bentley and lack of alcohol or drug use by the decedent. Also key would be evidence that Bentleys had a history of this sort of unexpected acceleration. But a quick Google search turns up no such evidence.
I’ll continue to watch this interesting trial closely. I don’t think the resolution of this will come for a long time. You can get a feel of how everyday Americans are viewing the defense in this case simply by searching for articles about the trial online and reading some of the comments from around the country. It doesn’t seem like most observers are buying it.