Punitive damages: Huguely must reveal trust funds to estate of Yeardley Love

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George Huguely heads into court for his 2012 trial for the slaying of his former girlfriend Yeardley Love.
Photo by Nick Strocchia George Huguely heads into court for his 2012 trial for the slaying of his former girlfriend Yeardley Love. Photo by Nick Strocchia

Nearly eight years after a UVA fourth-year died at the hands of her on-again off-again boyfriend a couple of weeks before graduation in 2010, lawyers representing the family of Yeardley Love were back in court February 22, and a judge granted their motion to compel George Huguely to reveal any trust funds to which he’s a beneficiary.

Jeffrey Stedman, who represents the Love family in its $30 million wrongful death lawsuit, said a jury would be less likely to award $350,000 in punitive damages, the maximum Virginia allows, if it would bankrupt Huguely, who was convicted of second-degree murder, sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2012 and has had “no real job” during that time. “Future income is not relevant unless it can be known with reasonable certainty,” said Stedman.

“We may find ourselves following Mr. Huguely around for 40 years,” he said. “His future income is relevant.”

Huguely comes from a prominent Washington, D.C., area family. His attorney, Matthew Green, argued that under Virginia law, a trust is never a current asset because the beneficiary doesn’t control it, unlike cash or a readily convertible asset. “What guaranteed income he’s going to receive in the next 12 months is a current asset,” said Green.

Another civil suit heard in Charlottesville Circuit Court in 2001 and the possible trust fund of one of four UVA fraternity brothers who brutally beat a student set a precedent that Judge Richard Moore considered in making his decision.

In that case, Richard W. Smith, the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith, was convicted along with Harrison Kerr Tigrett, the brother of the founder of the Hard Rock Cafe, Bradley Kintz and Wesley McCluney for the assault that broke the jaw of first-year Alexander Kory in November 1997, after Kory allegedly called Smith “fat ass.”

A jury awarded Kory $500,000 in damages. Smith, who sued UVA for suspending him for two years, was required to pay $200,000 in punitive damages, and his co-defendants each paid $60,000.

“The court did find the future income of one of four defendants was relevant and the jury could base punitive damages on that,” said Stedman.

Moore agreed with the decision of Judge Paul Peatross in the Kory case, and he took further issue with Huguely instructing his lawyer to provide no information to Love’s attorneys about trust funds.

“There is an obligation to respond,” Moore told Green. “As an officer of the court, you don’t let the client determine that. You tell him he’s got to respond.”

Green has until May 15 to provide information about Huguely’s trusts, which will not be made public.

The lawyers also argued Huguely’s motion that the Loves must use the same facts they filed in a Maryland insurance suit—that Yeardley’s death was accidental and unintentional. In that case, Chartis Property Casualty Company balked at paying a $6 million policy that Huguely’s mother and stepfather have because the policy excludes intentional criminal acts.

Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, filed a brief in the federal case that said Huguely went over to Yeardley’s apartment where they had an “emotional conversation” over their breakup, that Yeardley at one point banged her own head against her bedroom wall and that she was alive when Huguely left the apartment.

The Love family also hired Dr. Neil Blumberg, a forensic psychiatrist, who said Huguely had a .37 blood alcohol level and “was not aware of his actions,” said Green.

Stedman said the Love family “hasn’t endorsed” Blumberg’s opinion that Huguely “was so intoxicated he had some kind of blackout and didn’t know what he was doing.” He said it was up to a jury to determine whether Huguely’s actions were negligent or intentional.

In March 2017, a federal judge ruled Chartis did not have to pay on the policy, but that State Farm, which had a different definition of intent, would have to pay on a $300,000 policy.

Moore said he would announce his decision this week.

A three-week jury trial is scheduled to begin July 30, and Love has filed a motion to continue the trial again. Moore will hear that argument March 1 in Fluvanna, where he’ll be presiding that day.

After the hearing, Green said Huguely is not the same individual who appeared in that court for trial in 2012. “He’s not had a drop of alcohol since the night [Yeardley’s death] happened.” He’s handling intramural leagues at Augusta Correctional Center, where he’s incarcerated, and he is also finishing his college degree, said the attorney.

Huguely’s mother, Marta Murphy, said it was time to resolve the case. “It’s been a long time,” she said. “I’m hoping it’ll be resolved soon. It’s time. It’s time for healing and hopefully for forgiveness.”

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