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Charlottesville jury awards $15M wrongful death verdict


A Charlottesville Circuit Court jury handed down a $15 million verdict to the mother and sister of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player murdered by her boyfriend in 2010.

The jury awarded the verdict in Love v. Huguely on May 2, one day short of the 12-year anniversary of when Yeardley Love was found beaten to death in her off-campus apartment. Love’s boyfriend, George Huguely V, was convicted of second-degree murder in a 2012 criminal trial and is presently serving a 23-year prison sentence.

The verdict appears to be tied for the largest wrongful death verdict awarded by a Virginia jury with Combs v. Combs-LaFleur, a 2012 Loudoun County case where a woman died after her husband struck her with a sledgehammer.

Love and Huguely, who played for the university’s lacrosse teams, had dated on-and-off for more than two years but had recently broken up. At the time of the murder, the 22-year-old seniors at the University of Virginia were two weeks away from graduation.

Love was found dead in her apartment in the early morning hours of May 3, 2010, with the state medical examiner’s office stating she died from blunt force injury. Love’s attorneys in the civil trial told jurors that Huguely broke into Love’s bedroom, then violently shook and assaulted her. When questioned by police in 2010, Huguely provided information that corroborated both that he was present in the bedroom and had physical contact with Love. Huguely had also been drinking heavily prior to Love’s murder.

Sharon Love, Love’s mother and the administrator of Love’s estate, initially sued Huguely, the University of Virginia and members of the university’s lacrosse coaching staff and athletic department in 2012. The suit against U.Va. and its coaches was dropped in 2013, while the suit against Huguely was voluntarily dismissed years later.

National headlines


Love’s estate refiled a wrongful death suit against Huguely in 2018. The Love family was represented by Irv Cantor and Jeffrey N. Stedman of Cantor Grana Buckner Bucci, Kevin Biniazan of Breit Biniazan and Baltimore attorney Paul Bekman.

“The case was different and unique in and of itself,” Biniazan said, adding that cases involving prior criminal prosecution “have elements that are different than any other sort” of similar case.

Love’s death generated national headlines in 2010 and remains a high-profile case. While Biniazan said two or three reporters were present every day in the courtroom, the busiest day was when Huguely testified.

“Having George Huguely testify on the Wednesday of trial was a different experience,” Biniazan told Virginia Lawyers Weekly. “There was a lot of buzz in the courtroom to see what he had to say about what happened.”

“The true purpose and goal of the trial was to talk about Yeardley, who she was and what she meant to her family and the type of woman that not only she was, but that she would have become. We tried to do that as best as we could, and I think the jury’s verdict demonstrated that they understood that this is a case about Love.”

– Virginia Beach attorney Kevin Biniazan

Noting the publicity surrounding Love’s case, Biniazan praised Judge Richard E. Moore, who presided over the case, for allowing a full day for jury selection to ensure a fair and impartial jury sat for the trial.

“Despite the publicity of this case 12 years ago and leading up to the trial, the jurors who came into voir dire for jury selection were honest and open,” Biniazan said.

The trial


During the civil trial, the plaintiff’s team focused on proving to the jury that Love’s death was not the result of an accident caused by an intoxicated Huguely, Biniazan noted.

“That included us spending some time focusing on the history of the relationship between Yeardley and George Huguely and outlining the times in the past that George Huguely had been physical towards Yeardley and had assaulted members of the lacrosse team,” he explained. “We demonstrated and portrayed to the jury that this was a man that had the motive and had acted with the motive to cause harm to Yeardley and others in the past.”

Adding to the uniqueness of the case, Biniazan gave his closing argument on May 2, “12 years to the day after the moment George Huguely kicked the door down and murdered Yeardley Love.” He said his message for the jury on that day was “about a legacy of Love.”

“The true purpose and goal of the trial was to talk about Yeardley, who she was and what she meant to her family and the type of woman that not only she was, but that she would have become,” Biniazan said. “We tried to do that as best as we could, and I think the jury’s verdict demonstrated that they understood that this is a case about Love.”

The verdict

The jury returned the $15 million verdict after a week-long trial, finding that Huguely owed Sharon Love and Yeardley Love’s sister, Lexi Love Hodges, $7.5 million each in compensatory damages. The Associated Press reported the jury deliberated for about two hours before handing down the record-tying verdict.

Despite the noteworthy verdict, the $15 million total represented approximately half of the $29.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages sought by the lawsuit.

Since Virginia caps punitive damages at $350,000, Biniazan said the team of plaintiffs’ lawyers had concerns of achieving a verdict “that would be wonderful in number but not in practice.”

One argument he made in his closing was that the jury’s verdict “had an opportunity to represent more than the actions of a man and eight minutes.”

“By returning a verdict consistent with what we were asking for, which was exponentially more compensatory damages than punitive damages, they could send a message to the public — and, more importantly, Yeardley Love’s family — that the value of her life was worth exponentially more than the horrible actions that George Huguely committed upon her,” Biniazan said.

Huguely did not file an appeal to the verdict. He is set for release in 2030 after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal seeking early release last year.

One Love Foundation

Meanwhile, Bekman told the Daily Progress after the trial that the verdict “is a very fair verdict, but it is not as important as the finding that the jury made that there was wanton, willful misconduct and conscious disregard for the rights of Yeardley Love.”

Biniazan said it was important for the team to prove to the jury that there was wanton and willful misconduct for both the Love family and for legal reasons.

The verdict marks the end of 12 years of legal proceedings for the Love family, who established the One Love Foundation in Yeardley Love’s memory with the goal of ending relationship abuse. The Associated Press reported Sharon Love and Lexi Love Hodges “broke down in tears” when the verdict was read.

“I don’t know that there was a single person who sat in that courtroom from beginning to end and didn’t have a moment in time where tears shed down their face or pooled up in their eyes, because it was an emotional trial,” Biniazan said.