South Florida attorneys announced on Thursday the completion of a multimillion-dollar settlement in which they said they elicited “unexpected testimony” from one of the defendant’s high-level employees.

Michael Flanagan, a partner at Flanagan & Bodenheimer in Fort Lauderdale, was among the lawyers who represented the estate of Dwight Higgins against Driftwood Preservation Ltd. and Interstate Realty Management Co. before Broward Circuit Judge Mily R. Powell.

“In these types of cases, you typically ask the company if the security of the tenants and if the security of the visitors—on their property—is their No. 1 priority,” Flanagan said, adding that in the deposition, the senior vice president unexpectedly disagreed.

Litigation strategy

Four assailants shot and killed Higgins at the Lauderhill Point Apartments in December 2018. But before the assailants killed the 27-year-old man, he was at the apartment complex with a friend to meet his friend’s girlfriend, according to court documents.

It was not clear why Higgins’ friend left Lauderhill Point without him, but soon afterward, the assailants approached the victim in a robbery attempt, court documents show. A chase ensued, prompting the attackers to fire multiple shots at Higgins. Higgins later died at a hospital.

Through their investigation, Flanagan and his co-counsel, Pedro P. Echarte III, a partner at the Haggard Law Firm in Coral Gables, learned that the apartment complex had a long history of violent and nonviolent crime, including three shootings in the three months leading up to Higgins’ death, according to court documents.

To prove that point, plaintiff counsel said they put on testimony by several police department officials, as well as a private security expert, who opined the track record at the apartment warranted a “show of force” for the best interests of residents and visitors.

The “show of force” included round-the-clock security guards and intermittent off-duty police patrols, which the apartment complex failed to have on its property, according to court documents.

But the defendants argued they could not afford the expenditure. The defendants also noted they installed lights and several security cameras, and that the outcome was not preventable due to the location of the property, court documents show.

However, plaintiff counsel argued neither of these defenses had merit.

Now, Flanagan and Echarte have finalized the terms surrounding the $4.2 million negligent-security, wrongful-death settlement, reached with the owners of the apartment complex in November.

Fort Lauderdale attorneys Catherine M. Hedglon, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson, and Damian M. Fletcher, a partner at Tyson & Mendes, represented the defendants. They did not respond to a request seeking comment.

But Echarte said the deposition of the vice president was one of the critical moments in the litigation, and the product of hours of work.

In the more than two years since filing the case, Echarte said plaintiff counsel conducted more than 30 depositions, and offered to go to trial on top of the Broward County Courthouse to appease the judge’s concern of spreading the coronavirus indoors.

Soon after, the judge set a November trial date, and both sides reached the settlement just days before the case was set to begin in the state circuit court.

“Without digging into the financials, without pursuing the financial documents, without taking all these depositions and really learning about the property and what was going on there,” Echarte said, “this result for our client would have never been possible.”