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Gabby Petito’s family awarded $3M in lawsuit against Brian Laundrie’s estate

Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, speaks during a news conference as her husband Jim Schmidt looks on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Salt Lake City. The Associated Press

A Florida judge has awarded Gabby Petito’s family a US$3-million settlement after they filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the parents of Brian Laundrie.

Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt filed a civil suit in Sarasota County, where Roberta and Christopher Laundrie live, in May. The suit claimed that Laundrie was liable for damages because he caused their daughter’s death.

A separate lawsuit, still pending in Sarasota, claims Laundrie’s parents wrongly concealed that he confessed to killing Petito before he returned home in September 2021 to Florida from their trip out west in a converted van. The Laundries have denied that claim.

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito are shown with their van. Brian Laundrie / Instagram

Although Thursday’s settlement numbers in the millions, because Laundrie’s estate is far less than $3 million, Petito’s family will only be awarded whatever is left.

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“Brian did not have $3 million; it’s an arbitrary number,” the Petito family’s lawyer, Pat Reilly, said in a statement on behalf of the family.

A lawyer for Petito’s parents said whatever money is received will go to the Gabby Petito Foundation dedicated to locating missing people and curbing domestic violence.

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“The Petito family lost their daughter and they were also denied the opportunity to confront her killer,” lawyer Patrick Reilly said in an email to The Associated Press. “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 went missing in September 2021 while on a road trip with Laundrie. The case became an international obsession and her slain body was eventually found in a Wyoming national park on Sept. 19, 2021.

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Laundrie’s remains were found the following month in a swampy Florida nature preserve and investigators said he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The FBI said it also found a note he had written, confessing to his fiancée’s murder.

Petito, 22, had been in regular contact with her parents and posted frequently on social media to her large base of followers about her travels.

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito are shown at Zion National Park in Utah on July 16, 2021. Brian Laundrie/Instagram

The FBI said Laundrie tried to fake out Petito’s parents by sending them text messages from her cellphone, attempting to convince them she was still alive.

Laundrie was also charged with using one of her credit cards before he was found dead.

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Earlier this month, Petito’s parents filed a $50-million wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department.

They claimed the officers who questioned Petito only weeks before she was killed were “fundamentally biased” and negligent in investigating claims of domestic violence.

The lawsuit alleges Moab police officer Eric Pratt did not follow Utah state law during an investigation into a domestic disturbance between Petito and Laundrie last summer. A witness told police she had seen Laundrie, 23, hit Petito, 22.

Gabby Petito stands in front of a vehicle.
FILE – In this image taken from police body camera video provided by the Moab Police Department, Gabrielle (Gabby) Petito talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was travelling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. Moab City Police Department

The claim is based on a domestic violence allegation against Pratt, the investigating officer. An unnamed woman, identified only as “Witness 1” in the lawsuit, claims Pratt threatened to kill her after ending their relationship. At the time, Pratt was police chief of the rural Utah town of Salina.

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The Petito family lawyers claim the allegation against Pratt made him more inclined to sympathize with Laundrie.

Moab police maintain that Petito’s death was not the fault of local authorities.

With files from The Associated Press and Global News’ Sarah Do Couto

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