One day short of the 12th anniversary of her murder, a Charlottesville Circuit Court jury awarded $15 million to Yeardley Love’s mother and sister at the end of a week-long wrongful death lawsuit.
The jury ruled that Love’s convicted killer, George Huguely V, owed her mother and her sister $7.5 million each. The jury ruled that Huguely qualified to pay punitive damages, but did not set an amount.
“$15 million is a very fair verdict, but it is not as important as the finding that the jury made that there was wanton, willful misconduct and conscious disregard for the rights of Yeardley Love,” said Love’s attorney Paul Bekman. “That is extremely important to the family and it is extremely important to us.”
“We think the result of the jury in granting the defense request not to award punitive damages shows that George got a fair trial ten years ago and justice was done at that time and no additional punishment was warranted,” said Matthew Green, Huguely’s attorney. “We said all along that George accepts legal responsibility for what happened, both criminally and civilly.”
Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, was found guilty in 2012 of killing Love, 22, a fellow UVa lacrosse player and Huguely’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She was found dead in her apartment in May 2010, two weeks before she and Huguely were set to graduate.
The trial was prompted by a lawsuit from Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother and the administrator of her estate. It began on April 25.
The lawsuit sought $29.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
In closing statements on Monday, Kevin Biniazan, an attorney for the Love family, reminded jurors that because the lawsuit is a civil action and not criminal, the threshold of proof was lower and that they had greater leeway in determining damages.
Green, Huguely’s attorney, spent most of his closing argument urging the jurors to find that his client owed the Love family a significantly smaller figure than requested.
Biniazan said the case is about the legacy of Love and how her mother and her sister, Lexie Love, suffered as a result of Huguely’s actions.
Biniazan walked the jurors through the events of the weekend leading up to Love’s death at the hands of Huguely during the early morning of May 3, 2010. Taking care to focus on her injuries, Biniazan characterized Huguely’s actions as “vicious,” describing how he broke into her apartment, “battered” her and then left her for dead.
Indicating that Love had fought back, Biniazan said that tests confirmed that Huguely could not be ruled out as a contributor to DNA found under her nails during autopsy.
“As hard as she fought, he wasn’t backing down,” Biniazan said. “If he didn’t stop when she told him not to come in and broke open her door, do you think he stopped when she told him no?”
Biniazan asked the jurors to find that Huguely’s actions were evidence of an intent to kill and willful and wanton disregard for Love’s safety.
Although much attention had been given to Huguely’s alcohol consumption, which was excessive the night of the murder and in the years leading up to it, Biniazan said that alcohol could not be considered a mitigating factor.
Although inebriation can be argued as a mitigating factor for first-degree murder, he said that in this civil action the jurors could only considering it as a compounding factor of Huguely’s culpability.
Biniazan also asked the jurors to find that Huguely was deserving of punitive damages totaling $1 million.
“Nothing can bring Yeardley back, but by finding that Huguely owes punitive damages you will be vindicating her family and their pain,” he said. “You can never replace a human life with money, but the question for you today is how do you come close.”
Determining how much money the family should receive was difficult, said Green, Huguely’s attorney. He said in many wrongful death cases the plaintiff is the spouse of a decedent. That makes it easier to determine compensatory damages by basing the figure on lost income and life expectancy.
In cases like this where Love was not married and did not have any children, the task becomes far more difficult, he said.
“In a case like this, where all the usual considerations used to calculate damages are absent, it becomes an almost impossible task,” he said. “No doubt Yeardley’s death leaves an unbelievable void, but nothing can fill that.”
Green asked the jurors to consider finding that Huguely owed Love’s mother and sister $250,000 each for damages related to services lost and $500,000 each for damages related to their emotional pain and suffering. This $1.5 million figure was still a serious figure, he argued.
For punitive damages, Green asked the jurors to not impose any on his client, arguing that justice had been served when he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to more than two decades in prison.
Punitive damages in civil cases are often a way for a jury to right a perceived injustice, he said, citing high punitive damage findings in profile lawsuits filed against O.J. Simpson and rapist Brock Turner.
“No resource was spared in this case and George was sentenced to 24 years in prison, at the high end of the sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder,” Green said. “No resource was spared during the investigation and trial and justice has already been served.”
Green indicated that they do not plan to appeal the jury verdict.
As far as collection goes, Green said that is yet to be determined but the Love family may be able to garnish a third of Huguely’s wages. At a pay rate of 55 cents an hour, Green said that means the Love family may be entitled to 18 cents of Huguely’s hourly wage in prison.