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Podhurst Orseck Secures $10.6M Settlement in Cycling Accident

Celia Ampel, Daily Business Review

When noted scientist and financial analyst Miguel Octavio was hit by a car during an August bicycle ride in Boca Raton, Podhurst Orseck attorneys promised his wife they would do their best to get the case behind them by the holidays.

It was a tall order. Because Octavio was incapacitated, the attorneys could not access his medical records until a probate judge appointed his wife as his guardian. And with his recovery in the very early stages, it was hard to establish the amount of his future medical costs and lost earnings.

But Podhurst Orseck partner Ricardo Martinez-Cid and associate Lea Valdivia pulled it off, obtaining a nearly $10.6 million presuit settlement on Dec. 22 from insurance companies for the driver and the Octavios.

The Miami attorneys were inspired in their work by the life stories of Octavio and his wife, Kathleen, who met their first week of college in the 1970s.

“It’s a really neat love story,” Martinez-Cid said. “He goes on to get his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard while she gets her Ph.D. in chemistry at MIT. They’re both just brilliant folks.”

Octavio had been working in Venezuela as a physicist, but as the political situation worsened, he decided he did not want to work with the government and started writing about financial issues. The couple moved to South Florida in 2010.

At the time of his injuries, he was preparing to join a Venezuelan investment firm he had worked for as a consultant, Martinez-Cid said. The Octavios were on a bike ride together in Boca Raton when a newly licensed 16-year-old driver crossed into the bike lane and hit Miguel Octavio, causing severe head injuries.

“We had a lot of issues with the different health care providers because he was not in a position to request any medical records,” Martinez-Cid said. “They would not provide those, even though his wife was making all the medical decisions necessary for him.”

The attorneys went to probate court and won a guardianship appointment for Kathleen Octavio on an emergency basis. Next, they had to pull together medical information. There was more than one health insurance company involved, and Podhurst Orseck had to find out what they were claiming as liens for the injured cyclist’s hefty medical bills.

Martinez-Cid and Valdivia also spoke to the business partner who was working on bringing Octavio to his firm full time. They also investigated the 16-year-old’s family’s financial situation, learning the boy was not exactly an average driver. His father, Sean Downes, is the chairman and CEO of Universal Insurance Holdings Inc.

The driver “was in a Mercedes SUY owned by his father,” Martinez-Cid said. “So the insurance policy, being the household’s, covered 10 vehicles. They’re obviously a family of significant means.”

The family had $10.3 million in auto insurance coverage. With such a potentially large claim, Martinez-Cid said, he would normally want to spend a few months studying his case before providing information to the defense. But because the attorneys were committed to wrapping up the case quickly, they made the unusual move of doing everything they could to help the driver’s family’s lawyer and insurance companies with their due diligence.

“We set up a phone conference with his primary treating neurologist,” Martinez-Cid said. “We set up phone conferences with his business partner. We provided boxes of documents as to his medical treatment and on top of that, the court records, obviously. … There was definitely enough documentation and discovery that could have taken up a couple years of litigation.”

Although it was hard to be sure how Octavio’s recovery would proceed, the settlement talks were successful and the driver’s insurance policy limits were tendered. The Downes’ lawyer, Adam Rhys of Wicker Smith O’Hara McCoy & Ford in West Palm Beach, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The attorneys also persuaded the Octavios’ insurer to allow them to accept the tender of the $10.3 million without waiving their right to claim $275,000 in underinsured motorist coverage on their own policy. The settlement then totaled $10,575,000.

Octavio is now awake, but he struggles with memory and motor skills, Martinez-Cid said. The settlement is allowing him to do physical therapy and home care without the stress of a lawsuit weighing on him and his wife.

“In this case, we were really interested in getting all the facts out there quickly,” Martinez-Cid said.