A former University of Virginia lacrosse player is liable for fatally beating his girlfriend in 2010 and must pay $15 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, a jury found Monday.
George Huguely V is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence in the killing of Yeardley Love after being convicted of second-degree murder during a 2012 criminal trial. Huguely and Love both played lacrosse at UVA and had a two-year, on-again, off-again relationship before Yeardley was found beaten to death in her off-campus apartment on May 3, 2010.
The lawsuit sought to hold Huguely civilly liable in Love's death and asked the jury to award $29.5 million in compensatory damages, plus $1 million in punitive damages.
On Monday, the jury awarded $7.5 million in compensatory damages to both Yeardley's mother, Sharon Love, and her sister, Lexi Love Hodges. Punitive damages were not awarded.
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Both women broke down in tears when the jury's verdict was read in Charlottesville Circuit Court Monday night after about two hours of deliberations. The verdict came almost 12 years to the day Yeardley Love was found dead in her off-campus apartment.
“This had been a tremendous ordeal,” said Paul Bekman, an attorney for the family.
“They've lived through this, they lived through the criminal trial, and now they had to go through this civil trial," he said. "It is a partial closure that means a lot to them.”
Bekman said the jury was asked to answer the question of whether Huguely acted with “willful and wanton” misconduct and whether his actions were in “conscious disregard” of Love's rights. The jury answered “yes,” a finding that meant they could award punitive damages, but they did not.
But Bekman said the finding of willful and wanton misconduct means that Huguely will not be able to have the $15 million in compensatory damages dismissed by a bankruptcy court if he argues that he does not have the assets to pay the judgment.
During the trial, Huguely's lawyer, Matthew Green, acknowledged that Huguely's actions caused Yeardley's death and said her family was entitled to compensatory damages.
But Green said Huguely had been drinking heavily for more than 24 hours before he confronted Love in her apartment, did not intend to kill her and was unaware that she was dead until police told him while questioning him the next morning. Green argued that Huguely's actions did not rise to the level of “willful and wanton” conduct needed for a jury to award punitive damages under Virginia law.
"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,” Green said after the verdict.
Love, of Cockeysville, Maryland, and Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, were both 22-year-old UVA seniors who were weeks away from graduation.
Love's attorneys told jurors that Huguely and Love had a rocky relationship that was damaged by Huguely's excessive drinking. They said Huguely kicked a hole in Love’s bedroom door, then beat her and left her alone in her apartment without seeking medical attention. A medical examiner concluded she died of blunt force trauma to her head.
Huguely testified that he doesn't remember breaking into her room and leaving her fatally injured. He said he had been drinking heavily and compared his memory of the night Love was killed to a slideshow in which 98% of the slides had been removed.
Bekman said the jury's verdict sends a message that being drunk does not excuse violent behavior. “You think you get a free pass — you don't,” he said. “There's accountability, and accountability took place today in Charlottesville.”
Toward the end of his testimony, Huguely turned to Love’s mother and sister and apologized for killing her.
“I miss her and think about her every day. I would do anything to take back that night,” he said. “I take responsibility for what happened to her and I should have never gone over to her apartment that night.”
Sharon Love initially filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2012, but it was voluntarily dismissed years later after court rulings determined that Huguely was not entitled to coverage under a $6 million homeowners insurance policy held by his family.
A new lawsuit filed in 2018 dropped negligence claims, but added a claim alleging that an assault and battery by Huguely was the proximate cause of Love’s death.