A Superior Court judge in St. Johnsbury, Vt. has ruled that relatives of a woman who died last year as part of a murder-suicide in Lyndonville can seek punitive damages from the family of the man who killed her.
The ruling by Judge Thomas Zonay comes in the case filed by the family of Carole Anne Lozinski. She was killed in a domestic dispute a year ago by her estranged boyfriend John Chichester, who them killed himself.
“Wrongful death is among the most serious imaginable outcomes,” Zonay wrote in an Oct. 26 decision, “and malice is among the most culpable states of mind. This court believes that punitive damages may reasonably be awarded where justified by the facts.”
The ruling is a victory for victims’ rights, said St. Johnsbury attorney David J. Williams, who is representing Lozinski’s parents in their lawsuit against Chichester’s estate.
“It gives the close relatives of a slain loved one an opportunity to seek justice on their own, outside of the criminal system. It’s particularly important in this case because Mr. Chichester killed himself,” said Williams. “They could not seek justice in the criminal courts. This was their only opportunity. There’s no other way to punish Mr. Chichester.”
Lozinski’s parents are seeking $1 million. Punitive damages would be assessed by a jury on top of that amount.
But lawyers for Chichester’s estate asked Zonay to rule Vermont’s wrongful-death law precluded the awarding of punitive damages. Chichester’s estate is valued at less than $400,000.
In court papers, Putnam argued that since Chichester was dead the goal of punishing and deterring bad conduct did not apply. And state law didn’t allow for allow for punitive damages in this particular law.
“These provisions make abundantly clear that the Legislature is capable of providing for punitive damages when it wishes to do so,” Putnam wrote.
Police say Chichester, 33, of East Haven, repeatedly shot Lozinski, 32, of Lyndonville, in the chest last Nov. 5 before shooting himself in the chest.
Information from: The Burlington Free Press,
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