February 1, 2011; Source: Miami Herald | A jury's decision to punish an accounting firm for hiding information about a failing company could turn into a $91 million windfall for a South Florida foundation and the groups and causes it supports. Earlier this week a Circuit Court jury in Miami ordered the accounting firm BBDO Seidman to pay the estate of George Batchelor, the founder of an aviation firm who died in 2002, $55 million in compensatory and $36 million in punitive damages.
Although the bulk of jury's award will go to Batchelor's estate, attorney Steven Thomas said the entire sum would be passed to the foundation. Thomas said that "means dozens of organizations in Miami . . . may be getting additional monies.'' The Miami Herald reports that Batchelor, who founded Arrow Air and Batch Air, gave an estimated $100 million to South Florida groups that support children, animals, the environment and medical facilities before his death at age 81.
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The suit against BBDO Seidman claimed that the accounting firm had concealed information about the true financial health of the operator of senior communities in Boca Raton in which Batchelor had invested. The company, Grand Court, went bankrupt in 2000. Despite the rich award, no one is popping champagne corks yet. Following the judgment, BBDO Seidman issued a written statement saying it strongly "disagreed" with the verdict and plans to appeal.—Bruce Trachtenberg