(News-Press.com) - A retired Marine from Cape Coral has been awarded nearly $360,000 after he said he was dragged along a road by a recovery agent trying to repossess his vehicle.
Lawyer C. David Durkee, representing Cape resident Daniel Smith, said the decision was a "win for the little guy against the banking industry.."
The ruling was handed down this week in the Circuit Court of the 20th Judicial District in Fort Myers.
Lawyer Scott Shelton, representing Coast-to-Coast Recovery of South Florida, said his firm would examine its next move.
"We respect the jury's decision, and we will be looking at all post-verdict options," Shelton said. He did not rule out an appeal.
A jury awarded Smith $359,253 in damages, agreeing that the recovery service was negligent in the repossession of Smith's 2006 Toyota Scion and caused the former Marine sniper severe injuries.
Smith, 60, also a former narcotics agent for the Department of Justice, and his wife, Kim, were awakened by a knock on his door at 3:45 a.m. Oct. 5, 2011.
Recovery agent Charles Rambo, from Coast-to-Coast, was at the door and told Smith that he was repossessing the car, asked him for the keys and offered to let him remove personal items. Smith said he had just moved to the home but believed he was current with his payments.
Smith said he asked for repossession verification from Rambo but was refused. Rambo said he would get a business card but entered his truck and tried to leave by quickly accelerating with Smith's car in tow.
Smith said he had been leaning on the car and caught a military bracelet on the rearview mirror. He was dragged by the tow-truck operator about 150 feet until the mirror broke and he hit the ground.
Smith suffered a fractured hip and aggravated several injuries he received in Vietnam. He had to have the hip replaced.
"This certainly brings an awareness to people who are battling with banks," Durkee said. "Just because people owe money doesn't mean they don't have rights."
Smith said he was glad that the case was over and resolved.
"I think it was a long time coming," he said. "I'm glad it's over."
Durkee and co-counsel, Vincent J. Tubiana, said that although recovery agents are allowed under state law to tow away repossessed vehicles without judicial process, they have an obligation to not breach the peace and should simply "hook and book," or simply tow away the property without notice to the debtor.
"That protects both sides," Durkee said.
Durkee and Tubiana argued that Rambo breached his standard of care and failed to keep the peace by knocking on the door at 3:45 a.m.
Shelton, representing Coast-to-Coast, said there are no rules regarding knocking first in a situation such as this. "We have a fundamental disagreement on the facts," he said.