ATLANTA — After months of ignoring a civil lawsuit filed against him by Bobbi Kristina Brown's family, her ex-boyfriend Nick Gordon was ordered Thursday by a Fulton County judge to pay the family $36 million for her wrongful death.
In September, Gordon was deemed “legally responsible” for Bobbi Kristina's death after he failed to appear in court.
Bobbi Kristina, the daughter of the late Whitney Houston and singer Bobby Brown, died in July 2015, six months after she was found unresponsive face down in a bath tub at her suburban Atlanta townhouse in January 2015. She was 22.
Her death was eerily similar to the way her mother died three years earlier, and drew worldwide headlines and frenzied attention of the tabloids. She is buried at a cemetery in New Jersey next to her mother.
Bobbi Kristina never regained consciousness to explain what had happened to her. Gordon, who also lived in the townhouse, was among the people listed on the police report as being in the home when investigators arrived there.
Her family, both the Houston relatives and later the Brown relatives, and the court-appointed conservator for her estate filed a civil suit accusing Gordon of playing a role in her death by giving her a "toxic cocktail." The lawsuit accused him of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and transferring money from Brown’s account into his own without authorization as causes.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford ruled that because Gordon failed to appear twice to answer the suit, anything alleged by the plaintiffs was admitted through omission. The lawsuit sought $50 million in damages.
Following the series of testimonials from Bobby Brown, and friends of Bobbi Kristina Thursday , Bedford assessed the damages and losses related to the January incident to determine the value of Bobbi Kristina’s life.
“To determine the value of a life is pretty difficult. So the court has been back there primarily struggling with that particular issue,” Bedford said.
The judge awarded more than $36 million, broken down as:
$1.575 million for money taken from the account, including alleged stolen rings
$250,000 in punitive damages
$1.37 million for assault and battery
$13.8 million for pain and suffering as a result of assault
$4.2 million in punitive damages
$15 million for present value of life
David Ware, who represented the Brown estate along with Glenda Hatchett, issued a statement saying there was an "urgent need to get justice for Bobbi Kristina Brown."
"We intend to pursue, with all vigor, the full collection of the judgment," Ware said in the statement. "The defendant will not escape justice nor ever profit from his misdeeds. We hope that in some small way this will allow Krissy’s family to continue their quest for peace.”
“Domestic violence is a horrible reality in our society and Bobbi suffered such horrific pain and degradation at the hands of Nick Gordon, the man she loved and trusted," Hatchett added. "No one should suffer the way she did and the judge sent a strong message in the award of punitive damages that this despicable behavior is inexcusable and will not be tolerated.”
Bobby Brown and his oldest daughter, La'Princia Brown, Bobbi Kristina's half-sister, were among the emotional witnesses who testified at Thursday's hearing.
“I just miss her,” said La'Princia, recalling one of the final moments she saw her sister in hospice care. “I played music to her a lot. I could see her eyes looking around the room. She would cough. She would yawn. It didn’t seem right that she couldn’t communicate. She’d blink and more tears could come. I feel like she could see me but couldn’t say anything.”
Gordon wasn't in court Thursday and did not have an attorney in the civil case, but his criminal defense attorneys, Joe Habachy and Jose Baez, had said in August 2015 that the allegations were baseless. They also said that Gordon is "heartbroken" and called the suit a "fictitious assault."
Autopsy results released in March 2016 indicated multiple drugs were involved in Brown's death by drowning, including marijuana, alcohol (ethanol), benzoylecgonine (a cocaine-related substance), benzodiazepines (medications used for sedation or to treat anxiety) and morphine. But the medical examiner couldn't determine if she killed herself, if someone else killed her or if her death was accidental.
Earlier this year, Gordon talked about the death on Dr. Phil show. After that interview aired, Bobby Brown joined the wrongful death lawsuit against Gordon.
Although the police and district attorney's office have been investigating Bobbi Kristina's death since January 2015, no one, including Gordon, has been charged with a crime.
Dontaye Carter, a spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, said in an email Thursday that Brown's death is still under investigation.
Gordon has been living in Florida close to his mother and almost certainly does not have $36 million.
Contributing: The Associated Press