A Florida judge has awarded the family of the late Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito $3 million after the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit against the estate of the Blue Point native’s admitted killer and former fiance, Brian Laundrie.
“The Petito family lost their daughter, and they were also denied the opportunity to confront her killer,” said Patrick J. Reilly, a Venice, Florida-based attorney for the family of Gabby Petito, in a statement Thursday. “No amount of money is sufficient to compensate the Petito family for the loss of their daughter, Gabby, at the hands of Brian Laundrie.”
Petito, 22, last communicated with her parents in late August 2021, and after weeks of a nationwide search, her body was found Sept. 19 in a national forest in Wyoming where she and Laundrie, 23, had stopped while on a cross-country road trip. She died by "manual strangulation." Laundrie died by suicide about a month later.
In a note left near his body, Laundrie took responsibility for Petito’s death, the FBI has said. That note, released by the Laundries' attorney in June, said "I ended her life."
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, as administrator of her daughter’s estate, filed the suit in May for monetary damages for the “incurred funeral and burial expenses,” and the “suffered loss of care and comfort" and "loss of probable future companionship, society and comfort," according to a copy of the complaint. Laundrie’s parents, Roberta and Christopher Laundrie, were administrators of their son’s estate.
Sarasota County Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll issued the final judgment Thursday after a settlement between the parties was reached, according to the judge's ruling.
Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family attorney, said in a statement that he negotiated the settlement to avoid the expense of a trial because "the outcome of a money judgement was unavoidable" in the case.
"Working with Pat Reilly, and Matt Luka from Trombley and Hanes, we reached an agreement to settle the wrongful death claim for $3 million," Bertolino said. "Hopefully, this brings some closure to this one chapter of this tragedy and I look forward to working with Pat Reilly to resolve the litigation pending against Chris and Roberta."
The pending lawsuit against the Laundrie parents, filed in March by Petito's parents, alleges Laundrie confessed to killing Petito to his parents and they attempted to help him flee law enforcement. The suit further alleged, without evidence, that the Laundries went on vacation while knowing the location of Petito's remains before law enforcement discovered them in Wyoming. The suit said the Laundries’ actions inflicted damages on Petito's parents in the form of pain and suffering and mental anguish because of the "willfulness and maliciousness" of the Laundries.
Barry Spivey, a Sarasota, Florida-based attorney who was appointed by the court to be curator of Laundrie’s estate, said by telephone Thursday: “All that I was empowered to do was to collect Laundrie’s bank account and hold it in my trust account.”
Asked about Laundrie’s assets, Spivey said he wasn’t authorized to release the information but said: “It’s not a lot.”
Reilly acknowledged that the Petito estate is unlikely to recoup the full judgment.
“Brian did not have $3 million; it’s an arbitrary number,” said Reilly. “Whatever monies they do receive will help Gabby’s family in their endeavors with the Gabby Petito Foundation. The Gabby Petito Foundation will continue to address the needs of organizations that support locating missing persons and to provide aid to organizations that assist victims of domestic violence situations, through education, awareness, and prevention strategies. Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt wish to turn their personal tragedy into a positive. It is their hope that Gabby’s foundation will bring these important issues into the forefront of the public eye to the benefit of all our communities.”
Earlier this month, Petito's family also filed a $50 million lawsuit against a Utah police department, alleging that Petito would still be alive if officers had followed the law during a traffic stop two weeks before her death. That suit is also pending.