Soffer lawyers ask judge to drop helicopter suit

Fontainebleau owner Jeffrey Soffer in the lobby of the iconic Miami Beach hotel in a 2009 file photo.
Fontainebleau owner Jeffrey Soffer in the lobby of the iconic Miami Beach hotel in a 2009 file photo.

Fontainebleau owner Jeff Soffer’s lawyers on Thursday asked a judge to dismiss a wrongful death suit again him, calling the allegations false and the matter settled.

An ex-friend of Soffer sued him in December over a 2012 fatal helicopter crash that killed her husband, Lance Valdez, and injured Soffer. The plaintiff, Daria Gogoleva, alleged Soffer was behind the chopper’s controls during the accident in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving Day, having taken over mid-flight from the professional pilot, David Pearce.

Valdez, a wealthy tax attorney living in the Bahams, arranged the helicopter ride as a way to get Soffer and two traveling companions onto an exclusive island resort during a visit. Valdez and Soffer, an amateur pilot, were longtime friends.

In its first written response to the suit, Soffer’s legal team said he “categorically denies” the allegations of misconduct. The brief argued that, even if a judge believes Gogoleva’s account, the law requires dismissal since she has already agreed to a $2 million insurance settlement from the helicopter’s insurance carrier. That settlement, arranged after Soffer and two other passengers yielded their own insurance claims to Gogoleva and her young children, bars any future action, including a wrongful death suit against Soffer.

In her suit, Gogoleva said Soffer and his wife, model Elle Macpherson, pressured her to sign the release. Soffer’s response does not offer his own version of events, but a source working for Soffer said the developer has told investigators that Pearce “was the pilot in command at all times.’’

Thursday’s response in Miami-Dade Circuit Court argues that Gogoleva’s own suit claims that she knew of the allegations that Soffer was flying the helicopter well before she accepted the settlement. Since her legal team reviewed the matter in advance of Gogoleva accepting the money, Soffer lawyers argue her suit should be dismissed without even considering the facts of the crash.

“In short, this suit is an impermissible attempt at a do-over,’’ Soffer’s lawyers wrote. “...The Release clearly bars Plaintiffs’ claim for wrongful death.’’

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