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The State You're In: For Koch brother, vintage irony; a VIP experience with Mike Tyson; and giant snails, heavy lifting and more

Vintage irony

Back in 2005, Florida billionaire William Koch bought 24 bottles of ostensibly vintage wine — you know, old-timey Bordeaux like Chateau LaTour from 1864 and a magnum of 1921 Chateau Petrus. He paid $355,000 for the lot and never tasted a single one. He likes his wine, but sometimes he just likes to own the stuff.

Though Koch, 72, purchased them at auction "as is" he got wind that the bottles were fakes and that the person who had consigned them knew it. So he sued, and a couple of weeks ago, he won. A jury in New York awarded him $379,000 in compensatory damages — the price that he paid, plus $1,000 for each bottle.

Cheers to that.

Then the jury did something that ought to make your head pop like an overheated jeroboam of bubbly. It decided that giving Koch his money back wasn't enough. He deserved another $12 million in punitive damages.

Think about that for a moment. Punitive damages are generally awarded when the defendant's conduct is considered intentional not just a matter of negligence, or when the harm to plaintiff is particularly egregious. Remember the infamous McDonald's coffee case when a 79-year-old woman sued after she suffered second- and third-degree burns in her groin? The burns were so severe she needed skin grafts. At trial the jury learned that McDonald's had refused to reduce the temperature of its coffee despite similar incidents and that it had refused to pay her medical costs.

Burns: egregious. McDonald's behavior: intentional. Result: Jury awards $2.7 million in punitive damages (which was later reduced, by the way).

Say what you will about so-called runaway juries, but explain to me what Koch has suffered that merited an additional $12 million. Even he seemed surprised afterward.

"We weren't even expecting any damages and we got $12 million. Unbelievable."

I wonder what his brothers, David and Charles, think. You know they've spent a lot of money through the American Legislative Executive Council to promote legislation aimed at curtailing punitive damage awards.

Maybe they can discuss the irony of all this over a bottle of wine.

Bill Duryea, Times staff writer

Heavy-duty help

Bariatric Unit One.

That's the name of the newest ambulance purchased by Orange County Fire and Rescue. The ambulance is designed to hoist patients who weigh up to 1,100 pounds.

It cost the county $23,000, but it's actually supposed to save money over time. On a few dozen calls last year seven paramedics were required to lift patients into the back of an ambulance.

The new vehicle has a power lift with a stretcher that is 10 inches wider than normal. Okay, that's 87 words without moralizing about our national obesity epidemic and we can't hold out any longer.

The scene of the slime

Florida may have found an invasive species more frightening than the python or the Nile monitor lizard.

Yes, the giant African land snail is back in the news.

At up to 8 inches long, the beast is an indiscriminate eater with a menu of about 500 plants, including just about everything that Florida's agriculture industry produces. They're also partial to stucco and concrete; the calcium does wonders for their shells. But it's the slime that is likely to induce panic attacks among slow-moving worrywarts.

The snails eat rat feces, which carries rat lungworm, which can cause a rare form of meningitis in people who come into contact with the slime. How long before some idea-starved Florida mystery writer dispatches a bad guy with an army of gastropods?

A challenge for Iron Mike

When Mike Tyson brought his one-man show to Clearwater recently, the cost of his VIP tickets was an eye-popping $500. What's the draw, even for folks with money to burn, to spend a cool grand to take the missus to see a dude who told reporters, "My success is not about money. My success is about not going to prison, not killing or hurting nobody, or getting killed or hurt, respecting my wife; not giving her venereal diseases …"

But Tyson's not alone in this trend. British fans were recently outraged when they learned close-in seats for the British Summer Time Hyde Park concert, headlined by the Rolling Stones, would be 330 pounds — about $500. So what gives?

It's all about the experience, say Katie A. Pedretty, public relations manager at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and Jessica Eckley, manager of event marketing at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Acts command top dollar by providing access to core fans: backstage tours, meet-and-greets, catered dinners. Or at Tyson's show, an autographed boxing glove.

So who else could a fan "experience" in Tampa Bay?

At the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Aerosmith recently sold VIP packages for $1,276.25, while Bon Jovi's Diamond VIP Experience was $1,775 and included a front-row ticket in the "ultra-exclusive pit," a collectable concert chair, an autographed print, entry to the official preshow VIP party (open bar, buffet, prizes and music), "Rock-Star Red Carpet VIP Experience" (preferred parking, check-in, separate entrance), plus souvenirs and merchandise.

"Tours are now finding more and more unique ways to package the backstage experience at a premium rate, but for the fans — there's nothing like it!" Eckley says. "If you ask many, it's well worth both the time and money!"

Recently at Ruth Eckerd, where Tyson appeared:

• Cast of Modern Family, $175: buffet dinner catered by Maggianos, commemorative VIP laminate, meet-and-greet, photo with the cast.

• Al Pacino, $295: dessert reception, commemorative VIP laminate, meet-and-greet, photo with Al.

• Carol Burnett, $100: dessert reception, commemorative VIP laminate, meet-and-greet, photo with Carol.

• Robin Williams, $250: Concert T-shirt, limited edition concert poster, tour gift item, commemorative VIP laminate, autographed item, meet-and-greet, photo with Robin

Storied performers all, and fine role models for a celeb rehabbing his image. Keeping this kind of company, maybe Iron Mike can set his bar for success as high as his ticket prices now.

Big numbers

$6,666: The wage gap in the Tampa metro area between women who work full-time and men.

37,929: Households headed by women

in the Tampa metro area that are below the poverty line.

58: Extra weeks of food that could be purchased by a woman in the Tampa metro area if that wage gap were erased.

Source: National Partnership for Women & Families

Excerpt: International flavor

In her sixth novel, King of Cuba (Scribner), Cristina García offers two very vivid characters — one, a faithful portrait of a fake Fidel, and the other an aging exile named Goyo Herrera who spends his days feeding a murderous lust for revenge against the dictator and a still-robust appetite for female companionship. In this scene at the well-known restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Goyo's carnal escapades mix deliciously with his sweet tooth.

An hour later Goyo was back at La Carreta buying roast pork and desserts for his son. He felt vaguely ashamed, as he often did after an assignation with the sexpot bank teller. Fortunately, none of his meager thespian skills had been required to consummate the act. Luisa had often accused him of being attracted to trashy women, and he couldn't deny it. Shame was erotic. He had the Jesuits to thank for that. But Goyo was also blessed with a good lover's ample sense of what was beautiful. To him, every woman had something: a graceful neck, fetching knees, sultry lips. Even as a young man, he'd preferred his lovers maduritas. In his opinion, women were at their best after forty.

The bakery counter girl at La Carreta's — boyish, with cartoon orange hair and smelling of pound cake — talked Goyo into buying bread pudding, coconut flan, and enough flaky guava pastries to feed a baseball team. Carefully. She packed everything into a glossy white box, then penciled her number on the back of his receipt.

"I'm sure you'll be happy with your selection."

"Senorita, I already am."

The State You're In: For Koch brother, vintage irony; a VIP experience with Mike Tyson; and giant snails, heavy lifting and more 05/02/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 4:59pm]

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