Lawyer: Is Bollea divorce a ruse?
The attorney for an accident victim's family doubts reasons for the couple's split.
By TAMARA EL-KHOURY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007
The pending divorce between Terry and Linda Bollea could serve as a strategic move in a civil suit over the wreck that critically injured a young man riding with their son.
That's the opinion of Kimberley Kohn, a Tampa attorney who represents Ed Graziano, the father of injured passenger John Graziano.
Mrs. Bollea, 48, filed a petition for a divorce last week against her husband of nearly 24 years, Terry Bollea, 54, who wrestled professionally as Hulk Hogan.
The divorce petition seeks a split of the couple's assets, including a Belleair mansion and Clearwater Beach home with combined assessed values topping $7.9-million.
The future of the Bolleas' marriage has been a topic of open speculation for months in some news reports and on the Web, as well as in an episode of their VH1 show, Hogan Knows Best.
Still, Kohn said Monday a divorce could be one step the Bolleas could take to try to protect assets. That's because it could cut Terry Bollea's assets in half, she said.
Police say Nick Bollea, 17, had consumed alcohol and was speeding in a yellow Toyota Supra moments before crashing into a palm tree on Aug. 26. They say he was racing a friend who drove the Bollea family's Dodge Viper. In 911 calls released Monday, witnesses told dispatchers the two cars were racing.
Graziano, 22, suffered serious head injuries in the wreck and could require a lifetime of nursing home care, medical professionals have said.
Nick Bollea faces a felony charge of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, and attorneys for John Graziano's estranged parents have said they intend to file a lawsuit as a result of the crash.
But if the Supra and the Viper are not registered to both parents, it could be harder to go after Mrs. Bollea individually, Kohn said. The mother's degree of control over who used the vehicles would have to be determined.
So far, neither the Bolleas nor their lawyers have commented on the divorce case or what led to Mrs. Bollea's decision to file last week, a move Terry Bollea said Friday he learned about from a St. Petersburg Times reporter.
Mrs. Bollea's attorney, Elliot Jay Goldstein of Largo, declined to comment Monday. One of Nick Bollea's criminal defense attorneys, Morris "Sandy" Weinberg Jr., would not respond to Kohn's speculation about a civil suit which, he noted, hasn't been filed.
The divorce is not expected to impede the filing of a civil suit by Graziano's family.
Kohn said she would proceed with a civil suit as if the couple were married. She and attorney George Tragos, who represents Graziano's mother Debra, will handle any civil suit, which she expects will be filed in 2008.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to wait six months after a crash to see if the injured person has reached maximum medical improvement, Kohn said. Then a life planner will determine the cost of the person's future needs.
The arrangements to take care of John Graziano's needs became less complicated Monday as attorneys for his parents reached a deal giving Debra Graziano guardianship over her son.
The Grazianos had been scheduled to take the issue to court today and Wednesday. John Graziano's father, Ed Graziano, had initially contested his wife's bid for guardianship, and a judge appointed her as the son's temporary emergency guardian.
Under the new agreement, Debra Graziano will make medical decisions for John while an independent professional guardian controls his assets and decides whether to file a civil lawsuit on John's behalf, Tragos said.
"Everyone is trying to do what is in John's best interest," Tragos said.
The agreement to have an independent guardian for John Graziano's assets addresses Ed Graziano's concerns about handling of a potential civil suit, Kohn said.
The agreement was struck as authorities released 911 calls recorded immediately after the accident.
"There were two cars drag racing and one just wiped out," one female caller told dispatchers.
"They were racing," said another unidentified female caller. "I saw them."
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at 727 445-4181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.