August 19, 2000 -Victim Awarded $ 29.2 Million
In one of the largest personal-injury awards in Palm Beach County history, a
jury on Friday demanded that Nicholas Copertino pay $ 29.2 million to an
18-year-old and her mother for his role in a West Boca car crash that rendered
the teen a quadriplegic.
The award to Maribel Farinas and her mother, Margarita Farinas, could have
been even higher had they sought punitive damages, but their attorney told
jurors the Farinas did not want to appear bent on exacting revenge for the 1996
disaster in which five teenagers were killed.
The jury of four men and two women returned a verdict in compensatory damages
that fell well below the $ 40.7 million sought by the Farinas family, but nearly
double the maximum penalty suggested by Copertino's defense.
"It was good, it was fair," said Maribel Farinas outside the courtroom,
dressed in a black jacket and pants that matched the color of her motorized
"Nothing will bring my friends back, and nothing will make me walk again, but
this will make me happier. It will give me a better life."
Copertino, now 23, lost control of his Honda Civic in February 1996 at 85 mph
on Palmetto Park Road with seven teens, ages 13 to 15, crammed in the back seat.
The vehicle flew over a median and slammed into an oncoming car, killing five
teens and injuring Farinas and another girl. Three women in the other vehicle
also were injured.
The same jury ruled last week that Copertino's driving was reckless. That set
the stage for the penalty phase of the civil trial.
Jurors will return on Monday to consider damages for the families of four of
the teens who were killed, and for the other survivor. That second victim, Emily
Slosberg, didn't suffer injuries as severe as Farinas', but she lost her twin
sister, Dori, in the crash.
It remains unclear, though, whether Farinas or any crash victims' relatives
will ever see any money because Copertino's auto insurance company has denied
liability and Copertino has no assets. A lawsuit filed against the company,
Florida Farm Insurance, by Farinas and survivors is scheduled to come to trial
Copertino is serving a 15-year sentence for five manslaughter convictions
related to the crash.
Both sides of the case acknowledged in closing arguments the egregious
behavior of Copertino in causing the accident. Defense attorney Robert Moses,
calling Copertino's acts foolish and reckless, didn't even try to elicit
sympathy for his client, the clean-cut man who sat somber and quiet in a crisp
white Oxford shirt and green slacks.
Instead, the two sides debated how to calculate the monetary value of the
pleasures of life that Farinas has been denied. Farinas attorney Gary Sherman
reminded jurors that the girl will never walk, swim, dance or hug her mother
again, and both sides acknowledged she will be unemployable for her entire life
thanks to her spinal injury.
Yet Moses suggested to the jury that while Farinas' condition is grave and
tragic, the teen could improve it herself by obtaining her GED and partaking in
therapies intended to make her slightly more capable of simple tasks like
brushing her teeth and feeding herself.
"Maribel's most precious asset was not affected in this disaster: Her brain,"
Moses said. "This is a woman who is vibrant. ... This is a person who can become
involved in life."
Moses suggested she receive as much as $ 100,000 per year for the rest of her
life, estimating she might live another 50 years. Sherman demanded $ 500,000 per
year, and suggested she could live as many as 63 years. The jury awarded $ 12
million for that portion, or $ 200,000 per year for 60 years.
The two sides also disputed the cost of Farinas' future medical costs.
Sherman asked for $ 10 million, a middle ground between two estimates offered by
witnesses. Moses, arguing that the lower estimate was wildly exaggerated in
several places, pleaded for a maximum bill of $ 6 million.
But the jurors ruled Copertino liable to pay $ 11.5 million for future
The two sides had agreed to much of the rest of the judgment before the jury
deliberated. They settled on $ 1.5 million in past medical bills, $ 749,000 for
what Farinas might have earned in wages through her lifetime and $ 42,000 for
wages lost by Margarita Farinas since the crash.
Maribel Farinas praised her attorney and said she resented Moses' courtroom
commentary on whether she's contributed enough to her own rehabilitation.
"He has no idea what I've been through," she said.
The award is among the largest personal-injury judgments in Palm Beach County
history, although it doesn't come close to a $ 79.6 million award a jury gave in
January to a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. HMO giant Humana was found
liable in that case for cutting off special-care coverage.
Further judgments against Copertino for other crash victims and their
relatives also are likely to run in the millions.
In spinal cord injury cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, review the medical procedures in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate the accident record and injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of spinal cord injury, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.