A person can die for many reasons, but when their death is caused by criminal acts — particularly those perpetrated by a loved one — it can be devastating. Had it not been for the person’s actions, the victim would still be alive.
This was the situation that the family of Gabby Petito faced last year when their daughter went on a road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, and never returned. Laundrie returned in their van, but would not talk about what happened to Petito. An investigation ensued, and Petito’s remains were found on September 19, 2021, in Bridger-Teton National Forest. It was believed that the 22-year-old had been dead for several weeks. Her cause of death was strangulation by her Laundrie. Laundrie later admitted to the crime in a notebook he left by his body when he killed himself soon after.
Petito’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Laundrie’s parents, who would not cooperate with the investigation. Petito’s parents claim that Laundrie’s parents knew that Laundrie had murdered Petito but protected him from police and hindered the search for Petito. The case was due to go to trial in December, but in mid-November, a Florida judge awarded Petito’s family $3 million. However, that is an arbitrary number, as Laundrie did not have that much money. Still, any money the Petitos receive will go to the Gabby Petito Foundation, which was formed shortly after Petito’s death to help locate missing people and provide aid to organizations that assist victims of domestic violence.
In the summer of 2021, Petito and Laundrie were on a cross-country trip, visiting national parks in a Ford Transit van. The engaged couple left New York on July 2 and documented their journey on social media. The two had traveled to Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming before Petito was reported missing.
While photos of the couple would show them smiling, there were arguments behind the scenes. Their mental health declined, and they engaged in screaming matches and physical altercations. Police were involved in one situation when the van was traveling at 45 miles per hour in a 15-mile-per-hour zone. Police pulled them over and ordered the two to separate for one night after Petito admitted to slapping Laundrie.
Petito’s family did not hear from her after that. Laundrie drove their van back to his parents’ home in Florida, arriving on September 1. On September 11, Petito’s mother reported her missing to the police. On September 13, when suspicion over Petito’s disappearance started to mount, Laundrie snuck out of his parent’s house. That was the last time he was seen alive.
Investigators found Laundrie’s body a month later, on October 20, at Carlton Reserve in Florida. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He left a note saying he was responsible for Petito’s death. He wrote that he killed Petito after she allegedly injured herself after falling in Wyoming. After strangling her, he claimed he could not live without her.
That was when Petito’s family filed the wrongful death against Laundrie’s parents, claiming they knew their son had murdered Petito and had planned to help him flee the country. Not only did the Petitos lose their daughter, but they were also denied the opportunity to confront her killer.
What Can a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Do?
If your loved one was killed by someone else’s negligence, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, in Florida, only the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate may file the wrongful death claim. The personal representative may be named in a will or estate plan or appointed after death if the victim left no will or estate plan. Any compensation from the claim is paid to the victim’s estate for the beneficiaries. Spouses, children, and parents are the only family members who can be considered beneficiaries.
A wrongful death claim will not bring your loved one back to life. However, it can pay for expenses incurred due to your family member’s death. Some examples include:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Any medical expenses incurred before death
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship and support
- Loss of household services
- Loss of inheritance
Under Florida law, you have just two years from your loved one’s death to recover compensation for wrongful death. Therefore, you need to act quickly. Do not delay — contact a lawyer today.
Contact Us Today
A loved one’s wrongful death is a devastating situation. You may be struggling with grief. What do you do now?
If your loved one was killed by someone else’s negligence, there is hope. You can file a wrongful death claim and recover compensation for your family member’s death. See how the team at Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm can help you settle an uncertain future. Get closure and justice today. Schedule a free consultation today by calling (954) 876-4344 or filling out the online form. We have offices in Weston, Coral Gables, and Daytona Beach.