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Settlement for crash victim in Bollea case "appallingly low," lawyer says

CLEARWATER — Debra Graziano's sole job is to care for her son John, who suffered severe brain damage when he was injured in a car wrecked by Nick Bollea in 2007. She feeds the former Marine, bathes him, dresses him, takes him to doctor's appointments.

For that work, she makes just $1,750 a month — her only income — paid from a settlement reached between attorneys for John Graziano and Terry Bollea, the wealthy professional wrestler and entertainer known as Hulk Hogan.

"One would've expected there would've been sufficient funds to provide a caregiver or caregivers for John Graziano," said Edward Graziano's attorney, John Trevena. "Now, Mrs. Graziano is going to be devoting the remainder of her life to the care of her son, without any outside help. It's extremely sad. It's tragic."

Information about the financial settlement was revealed Friday in a newly filed court document, a deposition of Debra Graziano taken for her ongoing divorce case from her husband Edward Graziano.

In the deposition, Debra Graziano said she believes about $1.5 million of the settlement remains after payments to attorneys and the veteran's hospital that cared for John after the accident.

Trevena is not privy to the amount of the confidential settlement. But based on the remaining funds, he estimated Friday that it could not have topped $5 million. Trevena said experts he talked to had valued a potential settlement at between $25 million and $50 million.

"It's appallingly low. I was stunned," he said. "It's a tenth of the value I had anticipated."

In a 2008 financial affidavit, Terry Bollea said his net worth was $32.4 million. In 2007, Terry and Linda Bollea, who are now divorced, sold a Miami Beach house for $17 million, property records show. Bollea's 17,000-square-foot Belleair mansion is currently on the market for $8.8 million. It was originally listed at $25 million.

Trevena estimated Friday that Terry Bollea had at least $20 million in assets that could have been liquidated for the settlement to provide for John Graziano's future care.

Debra Graziano and Bollea's attorneys could not be reached for comment Friday. But attorney George Tragos, one of the attorneys who represented John Graziano's interests in the civil suit, said Debra Graziano was satisfied with the settlement.

"You've got to be realistic. It's got to be collectible. We've collected every dime of the settlement," he said.

Tragos said it's also important to note that a nearly $8 million bill to the Veteran's Administration was negotiated down to a lower amount and paid from the settlement. Now, the VA will continue to treat John for the rest of his life at no cost to him, Tragos said.

John Graziano suffered devastating head injuries in the 2007 accident. The driver of the speeding car was Nick Bollea, the youngest child of Terry Bollea.

Debra Graziano has been caring for her son since he was released from the hospital in September 2009. In the deposition, she said she's left with about $35 a week for herself after paying for health and car insurance, her cell phone, groceries, living essentials and her monthly tithe at her church.

Ed and Debra Graziano, who were married in Virginia in 1993, have two sons and a daughter who are all in their 20s. Evidence of marital discord began appearing in court records in 2004, when Debra Graziano filed for the first of several restraining orders against her husband. She alleged he hit her, stalked her, tried to sic the family dog on her and threatened to kill her multiple times.

In February 2009, authorities arrested Edward Graziano after they said he offered $2,100 and a pizza shop gift card to an undercover deputy to kill Debra. In May, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded no contest to a charge of solicitation to commit murder. The conviction is being appealed, Trevena said.

A final divorce hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.

Debra, 58, said she and John, who is now 26, and her other son, Michael, now live in a Dunedin house purchased for about $345,000 from settlement funds.

She has no income other than the money she receives to care for John. She limits herself to the $1,750 a month the settlement account earns in interest so she will not have to touch the principal, she said.

In the deposition, Debra Graziano said she pays for John's clothes and haircuts without reimbursement from the fund. She has no retirement fund or other savings, she said. Her car, a 2000 Oldsmobile John bought for her from his Iraq combat pay, is probably worth a couple thousand dollars, she said.

"To me it's worth more than any Ferrari on the street," she said.

Settlement for crash victim in Bollea case "appallingly low," lawyer says 10/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:11pm]

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