A grandmother must pay $11,362,500.00 to the father of her five-year-old grandson, whom she drowned while vacationing with her husband and the child in St. George Island, Florida in January of 2010. A United States District Court Judge awarded the damages on August 16, 2016, to the Estate of the child, who died in 2010 after his grandmother cut him with a knife and held him under water.
The grandmother, a German citizen, was charged in a separate criminal action for her crimes. In 2012 she was sentenced to 21.5 years in prison after being permitted to plead guilty to second-degree murder, a reduced charge from the prosecution’s initial recommendation of the death penalty on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. She is currently serving her term in Florida.
Prior to trial, counsel for the grandmother argued that because she had multiple psychologic and forensic reports which supported a potential defense of insanity, she should be shielded from civil liability in the Wrongful Death Act action brought by the Estate. Counsel for the grandmother stated that because she suffered mental problems, in part due to a World War II bombing raid, she should not be held liable for her wrongful act which resulted in the death of her grandson. This defense was struck down prior to trial when the District Court Judge upheld Florida law and Florida’s public policy to protect the injured party when faced with a civil claim arising between an insane person and an injured party. Summary judgment on the issue of the grandmother’s liability for her wrongful act was awarded to the Estate and the parties agreed to waive their right to trial by jury. Accordingly, the trial was held before the District Court Judge and was limited to the determination of past and future damages — the fair and just compensation to be awarded for the pain and suffering of the child’s father caused by his death.
During the bench trial, the child’s paternal grandmother and the child’s father gave testimony setting forth the emotional devastation caused to the child’s father as a result of the child’s death. Testimony was also given by the Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy of the child’s body, explaining and demonstrating what must have been his last minutes. The father’s hours of testimony clearly established the mental anguish, pain and suffering resulting from and caused by his son’s death. The evidence considered by the Court, as the trier of fact, included multiple photographs of a smiling father-and-son and the undeniably strong, loving bond that existed between them.
When announcing his verdict, the District Court Judge explained that the father’s extreme grief, pain and suffering were clearly established. He also stated that the manner of the child’s senseless death at the hands of his maternal grandmother, a trusted caregiver, added to the horrific nature of the case. As fair and just compensation, the District Court Judge awarded $7,037,500.00 for past pain and suffering and $4,325,000.00 for future pain and suffering of the father.