Court of Appeals Upholds $7M Wrongful Death Judgment in 2011 Murder Case
Personal injury claims normally involve negligent acts. That is to say, the defendant did not intend to injure the victim. Instead, the defendant was merely reckless or careless in performing some duty owed to the victim.
But there are also personal injury lawsuits based on intentional or criminal misconduct. The fact that a defendant is separately prosecuted, tried, convicted, and incarcerated by the criminal justice system does not prevent the victim–or their family–from seeking damages in a civil case. Indeed, in many cases the family’s best hope for some sense of justice is to pursue a personal injury claim.
Defendant Drags Out Civil Proceedings for Nearly 5 Years
In October 2011, a 23-year-old woman was found dead by the side of the road in Roane County. The cause of death was three gunshot wounds to her body. A subsequent investigation led Knoxville police to charge the victim’s former boss (and secret lover) with her murder. A jury convicted the defendant in August 2016 and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The victim’s estate also filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit in October 2012 against the defendant, seeking monetary damages. The defendant chose to represent himself without the assistance of counsel. This proved to be a bad legal strategy. The defendant failed to properly respond to various court notices and documents. For example, instead of filing a formal answer to the estate’s complaint, he simply “sent a letter to the court” denying the allegations. And the defendant never responded to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.
Not surprisingly, the trial court granted the motion. It held the defendant civilly liable for the victim’s death and ordered him to pay $2 million in damages to the estate. At this point the defendant acted–with the assistance of an attorney–and the parties agreed to set aside the judgment and “start the case afresh.”
This second run-through did not end any better for the defendant. The defendant’s lawyer withdrew from the case. And the defendant dragged matters out for several years by refusing to respond to the plaintiffs’ request for discovery. By January 2017, the trial court had lost patience with the defendant and issued a default judgment for the plaintiff. The following month, the court awarded $7 million in damages to the estate.
The defendant appealed the default judgment. The Tennessee Court of Appeals saw no merit in the appeal. It noted the defendant’s “long history” of disobeying court orders, which prolonged disposition of the case for nearly five years. The trial court “was more than accommodating,” and at the end of the day, it acted within its discretion to end the litigation.
Contact a Knoxville Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Even in cases where a defendant’s liability is not seriously in question, defense delay tactics can create additional roadblocks for victims and families who are just seeking closure. The best way to protect yourself in these situations is to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer who can guide you through the process from start-to-finish. Contact the offices of Fox Farley Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need assistance in bringing a wrongful death claim today.