In what is believed to be one of the largest Florida wrongful death awards in the state’s history, three of the men convicted in connection with the shooting death of a 19-year-old former classmate have been ordered to pay $500 million. Of course, as our Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys can explain, it’s highly unlikely her family will receive anything close to that, as the claims were based on an intentional tort, for which insurers will not pay. What it does, as her family’s wrongful death attorney explained, is hold the men personally liable financially.
Most Florida wrongful death or injury claims stemming from an assault or battery are filed against third parties for torts of negligence such as inadequate security. Liability insurers often will provide coverage (at least theoretically) for negligent acts that made plaintiff/decedent vulnerable to a criminal attack. Direct claims can be filed against a person for offenses like assault, false imprisonment, battery and homicide, meaning their personal assets and earnings will be subject to collection to fulfill the judgment. It is different than restitution, which is ordered by criminal courts.
In some cases, wrongful death attorneys will advise against pursuing an intentional tort claim against the attacker/wrongdoer unless he or she is independently wealthy. The reason is there may be no real gain even if the jury awards you a substantial sum. Plus, personal injury and wrongful death debts can sometimes be discharged in a subsequent bankruptcy proceeding. However, crime victims may have power in that scenario as a “creditor” in an adversary proceeding, asking the bankruptcy court to declare an ordinarily dischargeable debt instead nondischargeable. Injury or wrongful death verdicts resulting from the bankruptcy petitioner’s willful or malicious acts can be grounds for the court to deny discharge of this debt.
Intentional Tort Claims Are About Personal Accountability
In this case, decedent’s mother told The Florida-Times Union the verdict against the men (all but one of whom has since been released from prison, the other two guilty of accessory after the fact) was important because, “If (they) get a dime, it is not going to be (their) dime. It will be (her) dime.”
This argument that devolved into tragedy reportedly began over whether to open a car window. The group of friends had just left a nightclub. The alleged shooter pulled out a firearm and repeatedly demanded her silence. There were different stories about what happened from there. The shooter said the firearm “went off” by accident. Decedent was struck in the head and died almost instantly. The vehicle occupants took her body to a nearby wooded area to hide it and later lied to investigators. She was found days later by people searching for scrap metal.
The criminal cases took place separate and apart from the civil wrongful death lawsuits against three defendants in the car that night. Another claim against the owner of the vehicle, an aunt to one of the suspects, was settled prior to trial.
The court approved punitive damages, F.S. 768.72. As Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys can explain, punitive damages are only permitted in injury cases where there is “clear and convincing evidence” the defendant was personally either guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct is described as a situation wherein a defendant knew the conduct was wrong and that there was a high likelihood it would result in injury or damage and carried out the conduct anyway. (Punitive damages can also be imposed on employers, principles, corporations or other legal entities in some circumstances.)
Punitive damages alone in this case amounted to $200 million.
If you are injured in a violent criminal attack, we urge you to discuss your civil litigation options with an experienced personal injury or wrongful death attorney. Criminal prosecutors will pursue action against defendant for violating state or federal laws. Our wrongful death attorneys work solely for you.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Jacksonville jury awards almost $500 million to family of Kalil McCoy, Jan. 15, 2019, By Dan Scanlan, The Florida Times-Union
More Blog Entries:
When Your Florida DUI Injury Lawsuit Conflicts With Criminal Proceedings, Nov. 4, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Wrongful Death Attorneys Blog