Now that former New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez has been convicted of murder in the first degree, what will happen to the civil case that has been filed for the “wrongful death” of Odin Lloyd?
When Mr. Hernandez was convicted for the murder of Odin Lloyd (either by firing the weapon or acting in concert with another person that fired the weapon), he was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. That is what the criminal justice system is designed for: punishment of the defendant that is found “guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.” Those cases are brought by the government (either state or federal) and are prosecuted by attorneys that are employed by the government.
Mr. Hernandez is also responsible in civil court, where the focus is not on punishment of the guilty; instead, the focus is on compensating the injured. These cases are brought by individuals who are injured (or their representative) and are pursued by private lawyers hired by the injured persons. The government is not involved.
Typically, the lawyers work on a “contingent fee” basis. In essence, the lawyer only gets paid if he or she wins a sum of money from the defendant (or the defendant’s insurance company). The measure of the damages is based on the degree of injury and the defendant’s ability to pay for the damages.
Where the defendant has committed an intentional act of violence, there is rarely any insurance that will pay for the injuries. However, that does not relieve the defendant, himself/herself, from being obligated to pay for the injuries that he causes. Unfortunately, the typical criminal defendant has little, if any, money to pay to the injured person.
Such is not the case with Aaron Hernandez. Mr. Hernandez was a star. His physical ability on a football field brought him millions of dollars. We do not currently know where his assets are or exactly how much he has left, but we do know that he was paid over $9 million dollars as a “signing bonus” shortly before Mr. Lloyd was murdered. There is also a claim that the New England Patriots organization still owes him about $3 million more.
It will be the job of the lawyer for Mr. Lloyd’s mother to pursue the wrongful death case in an expeditious manner. The Lloyd family will not be the only people who claim an entitlement to the assets, but being first in line will certainly help. Since Mr. Hernandez has already been found guilty of the murder “beyond a reasonable doubt,” he will not be permitted to claim that he wasn’t involved in the murder in the civil case. The only substantial question left in the civil case is the amount of money to be awarded for the pain and suffering of Mr. Lloyd as he was murdered and the loss of love and companionship that his mother suffers. Any reasonable award for these injuries will be very large, probably in the many millions of dollars. If the Hernandez assets are still available, finally, Mr. Lloyd’s mother will be able to attach those assets.
There have been some statements in the news media that Mr. Hernandez “will be called to testify” in the civil case. He may be, but there is no chance that he will actually testify about what happened that day. There is simply no punishment you can give him for refusing to testify that he isn’t already enduring. He can be held in contempt, but he is already in prison for life. Moreover, because of the criminal conviction, he can’t claim that he wasn’t involved. Even if he did testify, who would believe him?