Dives into river on dare, jury awards $76 million

“Timothy D. Hoffman broke his neck when he sprinted down a dock and slammed headfirst into the bottom of the shallow river. Good luck collecting, though: The defendant, C&D Dock Works, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because of the incident.” According to those present, Hoffman jumped in on a dare to win money from co-workers; the owner of the dock works said there had been a rail at the dock’s edge. [Obscure Store; Orlando Sentinel]

More: commenters, and John Hochfelder, point out the bankrupt defendant’s effective failure to mount a defense. And Jacob Sullum has a post at Reason “Hit and Run”.


  • Paralyzed from Diving Accident, Jury Awards $76 Million – Will Verdict be Upheld or Paid?…

    As reported by Walter Olson at Overlawyered, a 20 year old Merritt Island, Florida man just won a $76,000,000 jury verdict for damages he suffered as a result of a diving accident in which he broke his neck on the……

  • This jury award will neither be paid nor upheld (if the appeal is even concluded). The damages amount is too high, the liability too tenuous and the defendant is uninsured and bankrupt. The case is important nonetheless as you raise interesting and important points about our civil justice system and this type of case. In my blog post today at http://www.NewYorkInjuryCasesBlog.com I have taken a stab at discussing some of this further, particularly as it relates to New York law and verdicts and settlements here.

  • I’m quite sure Mr. Hoffmann didn’t set out to break his neck or win a multi-million dollar verdict. Diving head first in to unknown water, of course, is inadvisable unless you’re a lemming. Nevertheless, I hope this post and thread draws the attention of those who are close to the case so we can all enjoy an emotionally driven ploy about the unknowns of the fact pattern.

  • There really cannot be negligence regarding the dock or its design since the plaintiff intended to, and successfully, defeated the reasonable safeguard of a rail. It was therefore impossible for any reasonable railing to restrain a determined fool.
    Also, had he been even minimally successful at performing his belly flop stunt, then he would not have broken his neck; belly flop = flat entry, broken neck = head first entry.

  • According to the article, the defendant could not afford a lawyer and so offered no defense. It’s a default judgment. I wonder therefore if this tells us anything about the state of negligence law. As far as I can see there is no plausible theory of negligence by the defendant, but since no defense was offered this nonsense got by.

  • “It was therefore impossible for any reasonable railing to restrain a determined fool.”

    That’s the beauty of the reasonableness test. It’s not so constrained, as to rely on the rail. Perhaps a reasonable dock owner would have had an armed guard. Surely, an armed guard could have saved this man from himself.

  • I think a roving patrol with a squad of Marines is necessary. After all, won’t someone please think of the children?!

  • Broken neck, default judgment where there is no lawyering involved. I’m not sure this tells us anything. If you are of the bent to do so, it would be fun to suggest that this is ridiculous sign of a system running amok because the verdict is so high and the case was so weak. But to do so, is the elevation of form over substance.

    My question – and I didn’t read the articles which may give the answer – is why on earth would a lawyer file suit and take a undefended case to a jury. Absent a incredibly compelling reason, this is OVERLAWYERING. I can’t speak to the facts of this case but lawyers have often sought verdicts to say “I got a verdict of $20 million” regardless of whether the was a fair trial and a meaningful award. And this is not a good thing.

  • Assorted Links 1/28/09…

    Agricultural Subsidies: Corporate Welfare for Farmers Into the Wild Shark Fin Ice Tray The Scourge of Redshirting. Kindergarteners… Not Athletes AT&T Announces First Femtocell For 3G Users eBay comes around, begins to realize Skype needs to go Elean…

  • Assorted Links 1/28/09…

    Agricultural Subsidies: Corporate Welfare for Farmers The New Congress 2009: Understanding The 111th Congress, February 10, 2009 Capitol Hill Workshop: Politics, Policy, and Process, February 11-13, 2009 The President’s Budget, February 24, 2009 The …

  • The finding of negligence by the defendant may make more sense given two facts not noted in your or Hochfelders’s description of the case:
    (1) The defendant was not the owner of the dock but the employer of the plaintiff and the general contractor for work being done on the dock.
    (2) The plaintiff’s boss as well as fellow employees allegedly goaded him into jumping into the water (and, as you report, the defendant did not put up any defense).
    See http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/state/orl-lawsuit2309jan23,0,1704148.story