A rear-end collision that ruined the life of a Jamaican handyman put him and Miami personal injury attorney Thomas Scolaro through a four-year quest for justice in state and federal courts.
Scolaro’s advocacy for Dwight Grant reached a turning point in Broward Circuit Court in May when jurors awarded his client $15.1 million. While jurors deliberated, however, Scolaro agreed to a conditional consent judgment with Farmers Insurance providing a maximum $5 million award and a waiver of Farmers’ right to appeal if Scolaro can prove bad faith in a subsequent trial.
He is confident that will happen.
Dwight Grant, then 22, was a back-seat passenger when the car he was riding in was stopped at a drawbridge and hit from behind by a drunken driver in Pompano Beach in 2007. He suffered permanent brain injuries that left him with short-term memory loss and chronic seizures. The other driver, Matthew Lyons, was fleeing police.
The original insurer, AIG’s 21st Century, which was purchased by Farmers in 2009, offered the policy maximum of $100,000. But it came with conditions Scolaro found unacceptable.
Nevertheless, the insurer sought enforcement, insisting it made a valid offer. Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning sided with AIG, and Scolaro appealed.
The 4th District Court of Appeal reversed in June 2009, noting the company’s general release was not routine. The insurer demanded Grant release other potential defendants even though they were not AIG customers.
AIG also required Grant to accept a nondisclosure clause and agree that all hospital bills had been fully paid. His medical bills exceeded $250,000, and he would need lifetime care. Scolaro made a counter offer of $755,000.
“The insurance company’s response did not constitute an acceptance of the offer made by the plaintiff. The trial court erred in enforcing the settlement,” Judge Martha Warner wrote for the appellate court.
Because Lyons was a convicted drunken driver and liability was established, the trial on remand focused on damages.
Grant was the twin brother of Dwayne Grant, and the two worked together as remodelers on home improvement projects. Dwayne stopped working to care for his brother. During trial, they were living in Uniondale, New York, but since then Dwight Grant has moved to Jamaica where his mother cares for him, and Dwayne has gone back to work.
Lyons assigned his rights to Grant, and Scolaro had to fight the AIG subsidiary in federal court in 2008 because it denied Lyons had coverage. U.S. District Judge James Cohn in Fort Lauderdale ruled Lyons and Grant “are entitled to a declaratory judgment that claims resulting from the May 19, 2007, accident are covered.”
“AIG should have just paid this claim at the outset when we demanded it,” Scolaro said. “But they chose to try to avoid the responsibility. The carrier at each and every juncture tried to avoid its responsibility, to avoid culpability for a tragic incident where there was clear liability on the other side.”