A lawsuit asking $100 million in damages has been filed against a Florida billionaire for a 2012 helicopter crash in the Bahamas that killed a prominent tax lawyer. The widow of Lance Valdez, the lawyer, filed the wrongful death suit last month in Miami federal court against real estate magnate Jeffrey Soffer. He owns the Fontainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach and is CEO of the Turnberry Associates real estate empire. The lawsuit alleges that Soffer was piloting the helicopter in November 2012 when it crashed during a landing attempt at Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club on Great Guana Cay, killing Valdez.
Soffer was licensed at the time to fly fixed-wing aircraft, but not helicopters, the lawsuit says. It’s alleged that he was flying the aircraft even though there was an experienced helicopter pilot on board. The lawsuit states:
He (Soffer) was recklessly flying and controlling the helicopter at the time of the helicopter crash without an up-to-date and valid helicopter pilot’s license. Soffer and four others survived the crash.
Just before the ill-fated landing attempt, the lawsuit says that Soffer flew over a golf course “and pointed out his house and yacht.” The helicopter was a few feet off the ground when it suddenly encountered wind turbulence, jerked back some 75 feet and crashed with the tail section striking first, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Soffer and others covered up the fact that he was at the controls. It was reported that Valdez’s widow, Daria Pastouhkova Gogoleva, and their three minor children would be limited to a $2 million liability insurance payment. Otherwise, Soffer would be held personally liable for any damages awarded more than $2 million.
The lawsuit alleged that a still-grieving Gogoleva was pressured to sign a release stating that she would not take legal action against Soffer or anyone else aboard the helicopter. It says she was falsely told that the licensed helicopter pilot, David Pearce, was the one at the controls when it went down. The lawsuit says:
Despite being responsible for the loss of his friend, Soffer repeatedly lied to and intentionally deceived Daria about his involvement in the crash in an effort to persuade her to pursue an insurance recovery rather than a claim against him.
This should be a most interesting lawsuit because of the parties and the facts alleged, which, if true, would clearly inflame a jury. Stay tuned!
Source: Claims Journal
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