NORTH PORT, Fla. - A final judgment in the civil lawsuit against the family of Brian Laundrie says his estate must pay $3 million to the estate of the girlfriend he killed – Gabby Petito – back in 2021.
The ruling is in response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Gabby Petito, whose body was found in Utah during a cross-country search for the 22-year-old.
The discovery of her body was followed by a search for her boyfriend who was thought to be in his parents’ home in North Port, but had actually fled to a Sarasota County nature preserve, where it’s presumed he took his own life.
In May 2022, Gabby's mother, Nichole Schmidt, sued Brian Laundrie's estate for wrongful death, stating that Laundrie intentionally killed Petito, and as a direct result of his conduct, Schmidt and Joseph Petito, Gabby Petito's father, "incurred funeral and burial expenses, and they have suffered a loss of care and comfort, and suffered a loss of probable future companionship, society and comfort."
Gabby Petito pictured over photo of Brian Laundrie's parents
Petito’s family sought wrongful death damages "which exceeded $30,000," as well as "compensatory damages, loss of probable future companionship, society and comfort and such other relief as this Honorable Court deems just."
On Thursday, a judge awarded a final judgment in the amount of $3 million — an amount the Petito family likely will never see.
Patrick Reilly, an attorney for the Petito family, called the settlement amount "arbitrary," adding, "Brian did not have $3 million; it's an arbitrary number."
"Their beautiful daughter was taken from them. Not only that, they were denied the right to face the person who murdered their daughter," Reilly told FOX 13 Thursday. "I can't say that this gives them any great relief of any kind, that this case has been settled because Brian Laundrie's estate is very minimal, but it is over. There's no amount of money that could compensate them for the loss of their daughter."
The family said they wanted to give some amount of justice to Gabby, and any amount of money they do receive from Brian Laundrie's estate would go to the Gabby Petito Foundation, and – most importantly – to raise awareness of the dangers of domestic abuse and give assistance to the victims.
As a result of the judgment, a December trial on the lawsuit has been canceled.
In a statement to FOX 13, Steven Bertolino, an attorney for the Laundrie family, wrote, in part, "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 [Laundrie]."
This case is separate from another lawsuit the Petitos filed against Brian's parents, which claimed they knew their son murdered Gabby as authorities were searching for the 22-year-old across the country last fall and didn't tell detectives. Their daughter embarked on a long-term road trip with Brian, but would never return home.
Instead of telling authorities what they knew about Gabby's whereabouts, and her death, the lawsuit claimed the Laundries hid behind their own legal counsel while they tried to shield their son from suspicion and even allowed him to flee.
In that lawsuit, the Petito's are suing the Laundries for emotional distress. It seeks more than $100,000 in damages for causing the Petito's pain and suffering along with mental anguish. That suit is set to go to trial in August 2023.
Officer Eric Pratt questions Gabby Petito during a call about domestic violence between Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie
The family of Gabby Petito is also suing the Moab, Utah police for $50 million in relation to their response to a domestic violence situation involving Gabby and Brian. She was last seen alive two weeks after the incident in Moab.
The FBI later found Gabby's remains at a Wyoming campsite she'd shared with Brian.
Brian was later found dead at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park along with a note admitting he killed Gabby.
Timeline of Gabby Petito case
In July 2021, Gabby and Brian embark on their cross-country trip, first driving from Florida to New York before heading west. They were traveling in Gabby's converted camper van, a white 2012 Ford Transit van with a Florida license plate, and documenting their journey on YouTube and other social media platforms.
Through July, they regularly posted updates on Instagram.
On Aug. 12, 2021, the pair gets into some type of altercation in Utah. A witness called police reporting a possible domestic violence situation between the two, prompting a response by area police. While the report and video show possible mental health concerns and tension between the two, officers ultimately determined the events did not add up to chargeable crimes. They also took steps to separate the pair for an evening in an effort to prevent escalation.
That same day, Petito posts photos on Instagram showing Arches National Park, also in Moab, Utah.
"We decided to take the path less traveled on the other side of the arch," she wrote in part in the caption.
One week later, on Aug. 19, 2021, A video uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 19 titled "VAN LIFE | Beginning Our Van Life Journey" highlights the couple’s travels in their converted camper van. The 8-minute video, on their channel called "Nomadic Statik," shows the pair in various locations on the California coast, driving through the salt flats in Utah, tent camping and cooking meals in their converted camper van.
Near the end of August, Petito’s regular contact with her family stopped. The last confirmed sighting of Petito was when she checked out of the Fairfield Inn and Suites on Aug. 24 in Salt Lake City, according to reports.
Her mother said she last saw her daughter over Facetime around the same time that Petito and Laundrie were believed to have left Utah for Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
On Aug. 25, 2021, Nicole Schmidt, Petito's mother, speaks to her daughter for the last time on the phone. Petito said they had stopped in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming before a planned trip to Yellowstone. On this day, it was also Gabby's final Instagram post, featuring several photos of her standing in front of a mural wall.
Two days later on Aug. 27, 2021, Schmidt receives a text message from Petito’s phone, which states: "Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls," according to a search warrant later filed and made public. This is later referred to as an "odd text."
"The reference to ‘Stan’ was regarding her grandfather, but per the mother, she never calls him ‘Stan.’
Surveillance video also dated Aug. 27 from a Wyoming Whole Foods shows the couple shopping inside — and is believed to be the last time Gabby was seen alive. The footage was not released until October 2022.
Brian arrives at his parents' home in North Port on Sept. 1, 2021 – without Gabby, but with her camper van.
On Sept. 10, Gabby's father, Joseph, was involved in a "public service" incident at the Laundrie home, according to heavily redacted police reports.
The next day, the Petito family files a missing person report in New York. Brian refuses to speak with investigators. He was named a person of interest on Sept. 15.
Body camera footage from the couple's encounter in Utah is released on Sept. 16.
Gabby's remains were found on Sept. 19 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
During this week, Brian's parents reported him missing, and a search is launched to find him. On Oct. 20, his remains were located, along with a notebook. The Laundrie family attorney said Brian died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
The North Port police chief admitted to "human error" during surveillance of the Laundrie house. He said his department "made a mistake" on Sept. 15 when they thought they spotted Brian outside of his parents’ home in North Port – only to learn at a later point that it was actually his mother, Roberta.
On March 10, 2022, Gabby's parents filed the lawsuit against Brian's parents, claiming they knew their son murdered their daughter.
It wasn't until June that the contents of Brian's notebook were made public.
"I ended her life," reads the note. "I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted, but I see now all the mistakes I made. I panicked. I was in shock."
Brian wrote that he chose to end Petito's life after she injured herself when she fell in Wyoming. He also wrote: "From the moment I decided, took away her pain, I knew I couldn't go on without her."