19 June 2017

Key West Resort to Pay $10.75M to Paralyzed Customer

A Key West resort and tiki bar agreed to pay $10.75 million to a customer paralyzed after diving from the dock.

Bernard “Bob” Barlow was visiting the island in April 2015 and spent an afternoon with friends drinking, lounging and swimming at the Galleon Resort and Marina. He hit his head diving into the water and was rendered quadriplegic.

“He lives in a hospital bed in the family’s living room,” said Barlow’s attorney, Stuart Grossman of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen in Coral Gables. “It’s about as badly injured as one can be.”

The case was less than two weeks from trial in Monroe Circuit Court, with the plaintiffs planning to focus on the absence of “No Diving” signs on the dock and the defense set to argue Barlow had too much to drink and acted irresponsibly. The settlement was reached June 7, and insurance policies are set to cover the full $10.75 million.

Barlow, a mortgage broker from Massachusetts who did two tours of duty in Iraq, made the trip to Key West for his 40th birthday. He and his friends staked out some lounge chairs at the waterfront Sunset Tiki Bar & Grille on the Galleon’s property, which is on a deck next to a designated swimming area roped off and marked with buoys.

The friends drank and enjoyed the afternoon, with Barlow making a few safe dives into the swimming area. But there were no warning signs to tell him that some parts of the water were shallow, particularly during low tide, Grossman said.

Barlow went to dive into the water for a fourth time, but was several feet down the dock from where he’d been before. (The defense argued he was past the rope that designated the safe swimming area.) That time, he hit his head on the bottom, felt a crunch and started to drown.

“Thank God there was a nurse in the water, who was also a vacationer,” Grossman said.

The Galleon’s owner admitted there were no signs warning customers not to dive into the shallow water — even though there used to be. There was no reason the signs hadn’t been replaced, the owner said. Today, the signs are back.

Barlow testified he would have obeyed any sign he saw. But as the case moved toward trial, the plaintiffs and the defense had a “lively debate” about the role Barlow’s alcohol intake played in the events that unfolded that afternoon, Grossman said.

The plaintiffs admitted Barlow drank that day, but no one measured his blood alcohol content after the dive. The nurse and other rescuers said he was lucid and respectful and didn’t seem to be significantly impaired by alcohol, the plaintiffs attorney said.

Grossman said he believes the defendants knew the signage issue would play against them at the trial scheduled for Monday, June 19, and they agreed to pay out the limits of their Scottsdale Insurance Co. policies.

“They had signs previously and had no justification for not having them,” Grossman said.

The Cook Group LLC, which runs the Sunset Grille, agreed to pay $1 million, with the Galleon paying the remaining $9.75 million. The money will benefit Barlow, his wife and their two children, with a guardian ad litem set to determine the amount to apportion to the kids.

Thomas McCausland of Conroy Simberg in Hollywood represented the Cook Group. He did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Benjamin Esco of Cole, Scott & Kissane represented the Galleon defendants, and he declined to comment.

Case: Bernard J. Barlow III et al v. The Cook Group et al

Case No.: 16-CA-000602-K

Description: Premises liability

Filing date: July 15, 2016

Settlement date: June 7, 2017

Judge: Monroe Circuit Judge Timothy Koenig

Plaintiffs attorney: Stuart Grossman, Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, Coral Gables

Defense attorneys: Thomas McCausland, Conroy Simberg, Hollywood; Benjamin Esco, Cole, Scott & Kissane, Miami

Settlement amount: $10.75 million

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