John Graziano is not a celebrity or anyone particularly famous. He is a former United States Marine and a veteran of the Iraq War. When he returned from service to his family home in Florida, he went to work for his best friend, Nick Bollea. Nick is the son of Terry Bollea, more famously known by his wrestling stage name, Hulk Hogan. Nick appeared with his father in a reality TV series, “Hogan Knows Best”, from 2005 to 2007. Although Nick was only 17, his real passion was racing. John supported Nick as a member of his pit crew.
Red Flags of Reckless Driving
Nick competed in professional and amateur racing and was even briefly sponsored. However, he could not contain his speeding to the race track. In September 2006, he overheated the engine in his Lamborghini and it caught fire. A few days later police cited him for speeding 115 miles per hour in a 70 mile per hour zone.
Through 2007, Nick racked up three more speeding tickets and four points on his license. One of those citations had him traveling almost twice the speed limit in a construction zone and another clocked him at 106 miles per hour.
The last ticket occurred on August 10, 2007.
John’s Last Race
On August 26, 2007, Nick, John, and two friends drove two of Hulk Hogan’s cars to a steakhouse in downtown Clearwater, Florida. Nick drove a Toyota Supra and John was his passenger. Witnesses recalled seeing the Supra and the other vehicle, a Dodge Viper, racing in a 40 mile per hour zone. But road conditions were wet and Nick lost control of the Supra. It fishtailed and spun across the road, first crashing into the median strip and then into a palm tree.
Both Nick and John were rushed to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. John was not wearing his seat belt. His skull broke and his brain swelled up. Doctors diagnosed him with a severe brain injury and expected him to need nursing care for the rest of his life. John spent the next two years in a Veterans Affairs hospital until he was ready for 24 hour care at home. Even then, he was minimally conscious and unable to significantly move on his own.
John, however, did wear his seat belt at the time of the accident. He was quickly discharged from Bayfront because he was unharmed. Doctors found the 17 year old’s blood alcohol level was 0.055%.
The Criminal Trial
Prosecutors charged Nick with reckless driving involving serious bodily injury. It’s a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. In November 2007, Nick turned himself in to the police.
Nick’s lawyers argued he was not racing because John would have worn his seat belt if he knew they were racing. They also claimed surveillance footage near the scene of the accident did not show excessive speeding. But in May 2008, Nick pled no contest and the judge sentenced him to eight months in county jail, five years of probation, and ordered his driver’s license suspended for three years. Nick got out early for good behavior.
The Civil Action
John’s family finally decided to sue Nick and Hulk Hogan when they realized the full cost of John’s lifetime care. Hulk Hogan was joined in the lawsuit because he was still Nick’s guardian and the owner of the car in the accident.
Both sides settled with the court’s approval weeks before the scheduled trial in March 2010. After medical and legal expenses, the settlement provided $1.5 million, according to John’s mother. John’s lawyers said the settlement would ensure John will get the care he needs for the rest of his life.
A Second Tragedy
John’s family soon experienced another tragic car accident. Michael Graziano, John’s younger brother, died as a passenger of a car accident in April 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 24 years old. Michael’s driver was speeding to pass a dump truck, but it fatally struck the back end instead. The driver had been arrested before in 2005 for reckless driving. This time his charges included a DUI.
You Deserve What’s Right
Some tragedies are not best called “accidents.” If lifetime care is a consequence of someone’s recklessness, you need professional counsel to secure lasting comfort and help without a financial burden. Choose Sam & Ash, LLP and do not settle for less—you deserve What’s Right. We are available 24 hours to respond to your case at 1 (800) 304-2000.