My Most Difficult Case

Jeffrey R. Davis

I remember as a young lawyer, a wise, seasoned senior partner told me, “Never represent a family member – you can’t be objective”.  Over the years, I have ignored this advice and helped family members and close friends with claims, including injury claims.  I never really had a problem doing so nor did I feel that I had lost my objectivity or ability to see the case for its true value.  That all changed a year ago.

Belle had been in my life since the 1970’s.  She worked in my father’s office as a secretary.  She was always friendly and willing to go above and beyond – she even typed my homework back in the days of typewriters.

I never really knew much about Belle or her life other than she was my father’s most reliable employee.  She would get there early, leave late and was never out sick.  Her work product was excellent, and she treated the clients, lawyers and judges with equal respect.  As the years went on, she began to attend night school at a local college in order to get her paralegal degree.  This eventually led to her receiving a raise and ability to buy her first new car of which she was extraordinarily proud.  By the time I was in college, I came to know that Belle had two daughters, was married and lived in the same Long Island town as us.  Belle excelled as a paralegal and took on more responsibilities in my father’s law firm, including attending and assisting at court appearances involving divorce hearings and trials, participating in document preparation during real estate closings and handling the day-to-day details of running a small-town general law practice.  Eventually, Belle became interested in attending college and obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  Again, she did this at night, after work.  Once she obtained her college degree, there was no stopping her – now she wanted to go to law school.  Again, she did this at night, after work and while raising a family.  Belle was incredibly involved in her daughters’ lives.  She attended all of their sporting events, school events and made sure they had everything they needed within her means.  As time went on, I learned that Belle’s was in a second marriage, and the two daughters were from her first.  I also knew that Belle was the primary wage earner and basically the center of the universe of her family.

Belle finished law school and took the New York Bar exam which she passed on her first try.  Now that she was a lawyer, my father made her an associate in the firm, and she very quickly began to bring in clients of her own.  She had established excellent relationships with the many judicial divisions throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties while still a paralegal and soon found herself receiving numerous court-appointed cases involving family matters, divorce, adoption, and alimony.  She became involved in the Nassau County Women’s Lawyers Organization, the local Bar Association, and numerous legal organizations all while volunteering at her daughters’ school and sporting events.  Eventually, Belle became so valuable that my father made her law partner and changed the firm name to include Belle’s.  Belle was extremely well known in Long Island as an expert in matrimonial law by the time she retired.  She showed how a divorce lawyer could be kind, understanding and compassionate and still be an effective advocate.

Events have an unpredictable way of rearranging the chess pieces of life.  When my mother passed away after nearly 50 years of marriage, my father was lost and adrift without her.  Belle, his law partner of many years was there to help him pick up the pieces both professionally and emotionally. Following the passage of several years, it became apparent that my father’s relationship with Belle had changed and they were not just law partners, they were now life partners.  They retired together and moved to Florida.

Belle had boundless energy.  She was up before sunrise and attending the first morning Zumba class offered at her community center.  She became a physical fitness regular at the gym and took all sorts of exercise classes and lessons.  She formed a nutrition club in her community and worked on community events and condominium-sponsored trips.  She and my father traveled to exotic places and had one adventure after the next.  Life seemed pretty perfect for the two of them – especially Belle, who I later learned had overcome incredible adversity, poverty and challenges before reaching the professional success and financial security that allowed her to enjoy life on her own terms.

A year ago, I was sitting at my desk reading my morning emails when I received a phone call from my father.  He did not normally call me during the business day unless it was important.  I could barely understand him.  His voice was almost unrecognizable as he choked out the words, “Belle was in an accident – she was hit by a car and I’m on my way to the hospital”.  I tried to get him to tell me what had happened – where it happened – anything.  All he said was he was on the way to Delray Hospital.   I told him I would leave immediately to meet him there.  When I arrived at the hospital, because of Covid protocols, I was not permitted in.  After frantically trying to get the attention of a nurse or someone who could give me more information, I met up with a police officer who was coincidentally on his way into the hospital to get more information about Belle’s accident.  I told him who I was and what connection I had to Belle, and he was able to get me into the hospital.  My father was in the waiting room in utter despair.  He was told that Belle had been hit by a car that was making a left turn on a roadway within in their residential development and that her head had hit the ground.  She was bleeding badly from her head and was unconscious.  He was hysterical.  We were allowed to wait in the visitor’s waiting room for the neurosurgeon.  After about an hour, the physician, completely devoid of personality, approached us and delivered his clinical opinion in a direct and almost heartless manner.  Belle had suffered a massive intra-cranial bleed and had a midline shift of her brain.  She would be undergoing a craniotomy and had likely suffered massive brain damage.  Her prognosis was poor at best. That was all the information he offered before walking away.  Later that day, after hours of waiting, we prevailed upon a nurse to allow us to see Belle.  We were given a few minutes with her.  She was swollen, bruised and unrecognizable. She was in a medically induced coma.  For the next 7 days she remained unresponsive before passing away.

Unfortunately, it took Belle’s death for me to really get to know the incredible journey that she had made in her life.  Her daughters, who spent the week in Florida to be with their mother, shared the story of Belle’s first marriage to their father.  The sisters are about a year apart.  While Belle was in the hospital having just delivered her youngest daughter, her husband came to tell her he was leaving her for another woman.  That was it.  He walked out of their lives completely and left Belle with two small children, no job, no savings and no plan.  Somehow, incredibly, Belle pulled herself up without any help or support, got a job and raised her daughters on her own.  In those early years, Belle would have to watch every penny. There was barely enough money to just cover basic necessities.  There were no luxuries, no trips, no frills.

Now she was gone; she left a giant hole in the lives of her children, grandchildren, my father and my family.   After her funeral, her daughters and their husbands approached me; “what can we do about this legally”, they asked.  I advised them that the driver of the car that struck Belle was financially responsible for all the damage, loss and harm he caused.  They asked me if I would be willing to handle the case.  I told them the story of the senior partner that cautioned me against representing family members all those years ago.  I also told them that it would be an honor to represent them, and I would not trust anyone else to handle the case.

I met with the police officers that had investigated the accident.  The initial patrol officer who responded prepared a long form police report and informed me that traffic homicide detectives would be investigating the case.  They explained to me that the at-fault driver lived in the same condominium complex as Belle.  He was driving his car on the way to the clubhouse on the condominium’s private street.  Belle was walking on her usual 2-mile morning walk on the sidewalk along the golf course.  She was in the process of crossing on the roadway that led to the clubhouse.  The speed limit on the main roadway that the driver was turning from was 30 mph and the road that Belle was crossing was a 20-mph street.  The detectives estimated that the speed of the turning vehicle was no greater than 7 mph at the time of impact.  The accident occurred on a sunny morning and there were no visual obstructions whatsoever in the area.  The police felt the driver was 100% at fault and that the accident was clearly avoidable.  While he did have his cell phone in his possession, they determined he was not utilizing it either to talk or text at the time of impact. No alcohol or drugs were involved.

The Defendant’s statement to the patrol officer was simply that he did not see Belle.  He was charged with the accident.  He essentially got a ticket for a moving violation. His license was clean and there was no evidence of any reckless criminal offense – it was simply negligence.

Because of the financial exposure a wrongful death claim held, the Defendant driver hired a lawyer.  His insurance company also retained counsel.  Fortunately, the Defendant driver was well insured and had both a significant underlying policy of insurance and an excess policy as well. Belle was also covered by a policy of underinsured motorist coverage.

Our firm conducted a detailed asset search on the Defendant driver.  He apparently had extremely limited assets which led us to believe that he done some asset protection in the past.  We conducted an even more detailed review using a financial services firm, but the man had virtually no attachable nor collectible assets in his name.  His home was of limited value plus it was protected by both joint ownership status with his wife and a homestead exemption.  Additionally, his car was leased and there was no other real estate, corporate associations or other evidence of asset ownership searching his name, social security number and date of birth.  We communicated with his insurance company and, as a condition of a potential resolution for his policy limits, we required that he complete a detailed financial affidavit which was agreed to.  This too revealed no additional collectible assets, no employment (he was retired), no mission or activity for the use of his vehicle at the time of the crash and no other potential vicariously responsible party or person.

My firm filed a Notice of Appearance in the traffic ticket case in order to be included in all proceedings.   Belle’s children and I attended the Defendant’s traffic hearing.  Unfortunately, the police officer that issued the ticket appeared for the hearing without fully preparing and failed to produce necessary documentation to demonstrate to the court that Belle’s death was related to the motor-vehicle accident.  As a result, the court opined it did not have the authority to sentence the driver by suspending his license with need to retake the driving test and exam.  The driver received a moving violation and a fine.  Incredibly, despite receiving a lenient sentence, the driver failed to meet the conditions of the sentence and eventually his license was suspended.

We explored a negligent road design case against the complex where the crash occurred.  Although the intersection was designed and utilized for a golfcart crossing, there were no lines painted on the street nor was there a designated crosswalk.  We obtained a grid of all crashes that occurred at that location in order to determine if any involved similar facts.  A review of the reports, and fire rescue reports for that general locale failed to yield any previous similar crashes that would have served as notice to the community of a defect.  A landscape architect reviewed photographs of the intersection but did not believe that the code applicable to such a design required a crosswalk for a golfcart path.  A decision was made not to pursue a claim against the residential complex.

The Defendant had two policies; an underlying policy of $500,000 in coverage and an umbrella with $1 million.  The initial $500K was promptly surrendered and all of the additional disclosure requirements of assets were complied with.  An additional request was made for the Defendant’s cell phone records for the date of the incident as well.  This too was complied with and revealed that he was not using his phone at the time of the crash.  At first, the attorney for the excess policy tried to push back on the claim’s value.  Our law firm was able to provide a detailed statement about Belle, her accomplishments, her plans, her family life, health and daily activities.  An additional impact statement about the effect her loss had on her family was also provided. The carrier surrendered its $1 million policy limits.

Our firm obtained permission from Belle’s underinsured motorist carrier to accept the policy limits as required by Florida law.  We then made a claim for the $500,000 in underinsured motorist coverage together with the medical payment coverage and death benefits her policy provided for.  The carrier hired counsel, pre-suit  to investigate the claim.  The attorney was from a large, multi-city law firm.  She approached the case as if it were a commercial transaction rather than a wrongful death claim.  Her value analysis seemed to focus on the “economics” of the loss and not the pain and suffering of the survivors.  Our firm gave a time-limited demand and actually hoped that the carrier would miss the opportunity to accept our offer in light of the obvious excess value we placed on the case.  The day before the time was to expire, the underinsured motorist carrier surrendered its $500,000 policy limits.  We had now exhausted all avenues of recovery and obtained all available policies of insurance for Belle’s family.

The last remaining detail was the resolution of the insurance liens.  We were able to obtain a waiver of the medical payment subrogation lien and a significant reduction of the Medicare lien.  Together with the assistance of our probate counsel, the Court approved the settlement and distribution of the proceeds to Belle’s two daughters.  We waived our fee and concluded what for me was the most personal and difficult claim I have ever handled.  Belle’s daughters were incredibly grateful and both vowed that this settlement would be their mother’s way of taking care of them and her grandchildren.  They plan to use their funds for meaningful and important events like their children’s education and their future retirement security.

Belle was a remarkable woman who changed our lives for the better in so many ways.  We will always remember her and cherish the time we had.

Client Reviews

Mr Davis is the finest personal injury attorney in the state of Florida. His intensive medical knowledge alone and how it relates to Florida law puts you in the hands of this highly skilled lawyer. Injury cases today more than ever need a fighter on your side and the...

David S.

Someone who truly cares! We had been dealing with a legal issue for over two years with another attorney, with no results. Jeff Davis stepped in, and has made more progress in a few months, than we had in over two years. He communicates absolutely everything with his...

Ashlie W.

Jeffrey is a very knowledgeable and competent attorney. When I spoke with Jeffrey the first time on the phone, he was professional and answered any questions I had. So if you are ever in need of an awesome personal injury attorney who has excellent communication skills...

Dr. Jared R.

Do not recommend. His staff made several mistakes on our case due to lack of care and attention. Jeff is more worried about covering himself and collecting his fee, than he is in following through on what he had promised. He has wasted our money and time and caused us a...

Lelio Calfat Ravagnani

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