Man adopts girlfriend prior to wrongful death trial

A wealthy Florida man who stands accused of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of an accident has legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend.

The charges are the result of a February 2011 traffic accident that claimed the life of 23-year-old Scott Wilson. According to the sheriff’s report, 48-year-old John Goodman drove through a stop sign and struck Wilson’s car. The Palm Beach Post reports that tests administered “several hours after the crash” indicated a blood-alcohol level well over Florida’s legal limit. A conviction could mean up to 30 years in prison.

Wilson’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Goodman in the wake of the accident. Their attorneys contend that Goodman adopted his adult girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, to protect his assets during Goodman’s civil trial. A judge had previously ruled that money held in a trust for Goodman’s two minor children could not be counted as part of Goodman’s worth when determining a financial settlement. Goodman’s civil attorney denied that claim, stating that the adoption had nothing to do with the civil case.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley wrote that “[t]he events which serve as the grounds for relief sought by the Plaintiffs border on the surreal and take the Court into a legal twilight zone.” Kelley went on to note that the Court “cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done…. The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children’s trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case.”

As Goodman’s legally adopted daughter, Hutchins is now permitted to assume control of up to one third of the total amount held in the trust.

It seems as though Kelley is skeptical of Goodman’s claim that the adoption had nothing to do with the lawsuit. However, it is not clear whether the court, or the plaintiffs, have any recourse in the matter. In any case, it certainly appears to complicate efforts to obtain a recovery for the Wilsons.