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Updated: 2/9/23

The $44,000,000 Verdict in Yolanda Cerillo Case as an Example of Civil Lawsuits Helping Crime Victims

The sad reality for many Florida crime victims is that after the crime has been committed, the victim needs cash, money to pay bills and meet basic family needs, and while the district attorney and the police may be compassionate about the situation and fierce about investigating and prosecuting the criminals, they may not be able to provide much financial help to the people who were hurt during the commission of a crime. 

We’ve posted about this before: crimes that happen at hotels, in dorms, in nursing homes, at restaurants, and even on Florida roads, where the victim is left in need even after an arrest has been made and the criminal proceedings are underway. Sure, there are crime victim compensation laws as well as non-profit groups dedicated to helping crime victims, but the victim may or may not qualify for their particular aid, and if they do, the aid may not be enough to truly compensate the victim for all their harm.

scales justice

For the scales of justice to balance for crime victims, civil remedies may be needed in addition to criminal prosecutions.

That’s not the end of the road, however. As we have discussed in prior posts, Florida civil law provides crime victims with the possibility of suing someone for civil damages and a monetary award for the injuries and damages they have sustained.

  • Negligent security law allows victims to sue hotels, nursing home companies, shopping centers, and other owners and operators of facilities where but for their failure to do their duty to provide adequate security at the time, the crime would not have occurred.
  • Drunk drivers that crash into victims may also allow for bars, hotels, restaurants, sports facilities, and other establishments to be held legally responsible for the damages sustained by the DUI victim under Florida dram shop law.

And there are other Florida laws that can help crime victims, too.  Like the Florida Wrongful Death Act (Florida Statutes 768.16) which has been in the media spotlight this week here in South Florida as a criminal murder case was followed with a civil wrongful death lawsuit resulting in a $44,000,000 damages award.

The Yolanda Cerillo Example of Wrongful Death Lawsuits for Florida Crime Victims

A Miami jury ruled in favor of the family of murder victim Wendy Trapaga this week, and their jury verdict found that Yolanda Cerillo should pay $44 million to the plaintiffs for civil wrongful death damages because they found that Ms. Cerillo was involved in the crime by helping her ex-boyfriend murder his new wife in order to get the $1 million life insurance benefits from her death.

The Cerillo case is a good example of how a criminal matter can assist in a civil lawsuit where the crime victim is seeking monetary damages based upon harm sustained in the crime. Here, for instance, the civil case could use the admission by Yolanda Cerrillo to criminal prosecutors that she assisted her ex-boyfriend, Michel Escoto, in the murder of Wendy Trapaga.

Cerillo was never charged for a crime. Instead, the Miami-Dade district attorney’s office decided to opt to give Cerillo immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for providing them evidence and support in building a criminal case against Escoto (he is awaiting trial for 1st degree murder now).

Florida Wrongful Death Act Used By Family of Murder Victim Wendy Trapaga 

The statements made in the criminal matter were then available for consideration by the jury in the wrongful death damages case.

And while the collectibility of the $40 million judgment against Cerillo may be questioned (perhaps the family will never see ALL this money, though they will see some – hopefully),  this case is a great example of how crime victims may seek justice through Florida civil law and damages under Florida injury and wrongful death statutes.

What Should You Do Now?

A good piece of advice if you have been harmed as a crime victim, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.



Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.



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