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Jury awards former Lake Worth police officer $7.1 million in breach of contract case

By Sooji Nam

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    PALM BEACH COUNTY, Florida (WPBF) — A Palm Beach County jury awarded a former Lake Worth police officer about $7.1 million after litigation with the city had spanned for more than two decades.

“My duty was to protect the people, and I would do it again if I could. That’s not going to happen, but having to fight your employer for your rights, I never felt like I retired,” Joseph Viera, who served with Lake Worth police, told WPBF 25 News.

Viera was responding to an emergency call back in 2001 when his life turned upside down.

“There was … a woman that was in distress. She was being attacked by two men wielding a knife. And on his way to the call, he got T-boned by a car, which resulted in career-ending injuries,” said Daniel Lustig, an attorney at Pike & Lustig.

“Most of my spine has been fused. I’ve got severe nerve damage. My spinal cord was damaged, my neck was fractured, both hips, both knees, my shoulder. I’ve got paralysis in areas of my body,” Viera said.

The city of Lake Worth declared him catastrophically injured in 2001.

“Mr. Viera was immediately entitled to these benefits that are provided by Florida law, which includes health insurance, and every benefit provided the basic health insurance plan. And the city didn’t want to give it to him. They didn’t tell him about it, instead they dragged him through a worker’s comp defense during six to eight years,” Lustig said.

Viera had filed lawsuits against the city of Lake Worth, demanding his benefits.

“Mr. Viera was supposed to receive all the benefits that are even by the statute, which includes all the benefits that are part of the basic health insurance plan as well as medical, dental vision,” he added. “And he was supposed to receive all the benefits that are equal to or greater than the benefits given to the HR director.”

“It’s a hit-and-run by the city. Except, Mr. Viera ran toward his obligations while the city runs away from theirs. This trial brought an end to a decades-long litigation, and we’re very happy that the jury appraised the cost of care. This case is about the cost of care. Insurance,” Michael Pike, the managing partner and Pike & Lustig, told WPBF 25 News.

WPBF 25 News reached out to the city of Lake Worth Beach for a comment in response to the $7.1 million verdict, and the city manager sent this statement below.

“The City of Lake Worth Beach respects the Jury’s decision in the case with Joseph Viera. At this time, the City plans to appeal the decision and as such will be offering no further comment on this matter.”

“If they want to run it back and do it again, and incur attorneys’ fees, we’ll run it back, and we’ll beat them again,” Pike responded.

Meanwhile, the Vieras said they are very grateful to the jury for the verdict.

“We’re relieved that his story was able to be told, that there is the ability to continue to care for him, and that hopefully we don’t have to keep fighting this,” Lynn Viera, Joseph Viera’s wife, told WPBF 25 News.

“It’s been an ongoing battle. And the jury allowed me to be able to call- and law enforcement would understand this- last week I actually was able to call out 10-7,” Viera said.

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