Wrongful Death Suits for Violent Crimes

Wrongful Death Suits for Violent Crimes

Wrongful death suits for violent crimes can help to hold perpetrators responsible. Learn more about filing a civil suit.

Article Written By: Glenna M.
Wrongful Death Suits for Violent Crimes
If your family member has been the victim of a murder, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator. This kind of wrongful death suit is a civil trial that is the “flipside” of the criminal trial. The two are completely separate events, and, as we learned with the OJ Simpson case, a civil suit can be successful even if the criminal trial does not secure a conviction. These types of legal actions are often settled before they go to court, but if they do go to trial, the standard of proof is less rigorous than that required for a criminal trial. Wrongful death actions generally occur after the criminal trial has ended, and may take some time to resolve.

The Russell Williams Case
An infamous Ontario case helps to illustrate the way wrongful death suits may be pursued. Colonel Russell Williams was a decorated air force pilot and a rising star in the Canadian military. Williams was educated at the prestigious private school Upper Canada College and attended the University of Toronto, where he studied economics. He joined the Canadian Forces in the 1980s, and steadily rose in rank. One of Williams’s assignments was a pilot for VIPs, including passengers such as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Philip. Williams was the commander at Canada’s largest air force base at Trenton when he was arrested in 2010. Shockingly, Williams was charged with the murders of two women (one of whom was an air force corporal,) and with dozens of other sexually-related crimes. 

The case stunned the country and became an international media sensation. Williams confessed to a horrific crime spree: two murders, two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of burglaries where he stole women’s lingerie. Williams meticulously catalogued his crimes, shooting videos and still photos of himself in the act, and keeping souvenirs from victims. Graphic and disturbing photos were shown during his trial.

Eight months after his confession, Williams was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for twenty-five years. The Canadian Forces stripped him of his rank after his conviction -- and even went so far as to burn his uniform.

It might seem as though this would be the end of Williams’s legal journey, but in fact, there were four separate civil actions pending against him at the time of his conviction. One was a $4 million wrongful death action launched by the mother and brother of one of William’s murder victims, Jessica Lloyd. Williams kidnapped Jessica and killed her at his cottage in Tweed, Ontario. During her ordeal, Jessica had begged Williams, “If I die, will you make sure that my mom knows I love her?" At victim impact statements, Jessica’s mother Roxanne Lloyd stated, “I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest." 

Four years after his conviction, Williams reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs. Details of this settlement have not been made public. 

According to the Globe and Mail, a letter Williams wrote for Roxanne Lloyd read: "Mrs. Lloyd, you won't believe me, I know, but I am sorry for having taken your daughter from you. Jessica was a beautiful, gentle young woman, as you know. I know she loved you very much - she told me so again and again. I can tell you that she did not suspect that the end was coming - Jessica was happy because she believed she was going home. I know you have already had a lot of pain in your life. I am sorry to have caused you more."

Williams is incarcerated in the maximum-security prison at Port-Cartier, Québec.

Although nothing can ever compensate for the loss of a family member, filing a wrongful death suit can serve as a way of holding the perpetrator responsible for his actions, and can bring some measure of healing to grieving relatives. A settlement or an award from the murderer is an admission of guilt, and exacts a penalty that comes directly to the family of his victim.

The money that is gained from this type of suit can be used to help a family who may have lost their main wage earner or main caregiver. It can be used to start a program that will act as a memorial to the victim, such as a scholarship fund or a prize related to the deceased’s area of interest. It can be donated to a charity that the deceased supported.

To learn whether or not your family may be eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim, consult a personal injury lawyer. He or she will be able to tell you what options may be available to you, and to advise you as to your chances of success. Because these types of cases are complex, and some aspects are time-sensitive, the sooner you seek the help of a personal injury lawyer, the better.