North Dakota Wrongful Death: District Court Awards $9.6 Million in Civil Action

The District Court, East Central Judicial District in North Dakota, issued an opinion on July 8 in a civil action for damages for wrongful death, ordering judgments of $4,406,139.50 as compensation for economic damages, $5 million as compensation for non-economic damages and the maximum $250,000 for exemplary damages. The family of Dr. Philip Gattuso of Fargo, N.D., who was killed in October 2009, had sought damages in the civil action following the July 2011 conviction of conspiracy to murder and life sentencing of the defendant, Gene Kirkpatrick, of Jones, Okla.

“The court has sent a very clear message that the harshest financial penalties will be applied in civil cases on behalf of victims in North Dakota, indeed nationally,” said Kathleen Flynn Peterson, co-trial counsel for the heirs and next-of-kin of Dr. Gattuso. Flynn Peterson, Chair of the Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Group and a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. in Minneapolis, was supported by Brandon Thompson, a principal with the law firm.

“We are very pleased with the court’s opinion. Victims of terrible crimes in North Dakota have an effective recourse for dealing with civil actions stemming from wrongful death, and they can find comfort that the legal system holds financially accountable the value of human life,” said co-trial counsel David R. Bossart, of Fargo, N.D.

“This is a victory of justice for families everywhere who have experienced crime. The consequences for intentionally killing another person is equally important in both criminal and civil courts,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Kirkpatrick had arranged for his son-in-law, Dr. Gattuso, to be killed following the death of his daughter Valerie, Dr. Gattuso’s wife, to attempt custody of their young daughter. Valerie Gattuso had passed away in March 2009 following complications from surgery. Flynn Peterson also represented the Gattuso family in that medical malpractice lawsuit, which had settled confidentially.

“The terrible loss of Philip will be felt by his family and friends forever. We are grateful that the court understood that his life had meaning and applied this significant financial punishment against the responsible party,” said Roy Gattuso, Philip’s brother.

Read Minnesota Lawyer's "Judge Awards $9.6M in Wrongful Death Suit (PDF)" (July 29, 2013) 

Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment Civil No.: 09-2011-CV-02582 (PDF)