Most are familiar with the concept of hiding assets in the midst of a divorce. We don’t often hear about hidden assets in personal injury lawsuits, but that’s because the majority of defendants aren’t independently wealthy. Mostly, claims for injury as a result of DUI or other negligence behind the wheel is covered by auto insurance companies. That’s not to say individuals can’t legally be held personally liable for damages over and above that amount, but it often makes little sense to pursue it when defendant has few assets anyway.
However, debts for personal injury caused while driving under the influence is not dischargeable under U.S. Bankruptcy Code Section 523(a)(9). That means if a court has ordered defendant to pay plaintiff a sum in compensation for DUI injuries, that debt can’t simply be wiped clean by bankruptcy, as so many other debts can be. Still, collecting this compensation directly from a drunk driving defendant can be a challenge.
In a recent Palm Beach County DUI lawsuit, an 82-year-old Uber driver killed in a September crash, and defendant’s insurer now accuses defendant of hiding assets to avoid paying insurance claims benefiting the family’s estate.
According to The Sun Sentinel, the 61-year-old defendant, founder of a chain of fitness clubs, was traveling at least 75 mph after leaving a local bar when he allegedly struck a sport utility vehicle driven by an 82-year-old Uber driver on his way home for dinner. Defendant is accused of numerous criminal charges, including DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Defendant denied speeding, saying he was traveling, at most, 30 mph. However, physical evidence and witness statements have so far refuted that. Authorities were also able to determine defendant and his companion collectively consumed four Long Island iced teas, three cosmos, four Grey Goose vodka drinks and a vodka martini. At the time of the crash, which occurred shortly after he left the restaurant, his blood-alcohol level was 0.15.
In the civil case, however, insurer alleges defendant has been working to actively conceal his real estate holdings, and is seeking a court-appointed receiver to control defendant’s mortgages and other holdings until the debts are resolved.
Several years ago, defendant sold two waterfront homes – one in Fort Lauderdale and another in Pompano Beach – and issued private mortgages on those properties worth $5.5 million. Then a few months after the crash last year, defendant reportedly assigned those mortgages to two limited liability companies controlled by either himself or his associates. Plaintiff insurer alleges this was done for the purpose of hindering, defrauding or delaying payment to creditors in his DUI injury case.
Attorneys for defendant, however, insist the real estate transactions were made in good faith and at fair market value.
As for decedent’s family, his widow as representative of his estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against defendant (which was defended by his insurer). The claim was ultimately settled by the insurer for an undisclosed sum.
It should be noted that while bankruptcy won’t clear debts incurred as a result of DUI injuries, marriage can protect jointly-owned property from being seized by a debt collector or lawsuit. Defendant and his girlfriend married a few months after his arrest at a county courthouse.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Driver in deadly Lamborghini crash accused of hiding assets to avoid payout, Aug. 10, 2017, By Skyler Swisher, Sun Sentinel
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