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The Nebraska Supreme Court has consistently recognized that in an action for wrongful death of a child, recoverable damages include parental loss of the child's society, comfort, and companionship. The term "society" embraces a broad range of mutual benefits each family member receives from the others' continued existence, including love, affection, care, attention, companionship, comfort, and protection. When a child is wrongfully killed, a parent's investment in that child of money, affection, guidance, security, and love is destroyed. Destruction of such value is recognized whether the child is a minor or an adult. Parental loss is not limited to or necessarily dependent upon deprivation of the child's monetary contribution toward parental well-being.
On December 31, 1993, Teena Brandon, Lisa Lambert, and Phillip Devine were found murdered in Lambert's rural Humboldt farmhouse in Richardson County, Nebraska. Teena Brandon (victim) identified as a male by the name of Charles Brayman. John L. Lotter and Thomas M. Nissen, also known as Marvin T. Nissen, were convicted of the murders. JoAnn Brandon (JoAnn), mother of the victim, brought an action against Richardson County and Sheriff Charles B. Laux for negligence, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with the victim's murder and the events leading up to the victim's death. JoAnn also brought a civil rights action against Lotter, Nissen, and Laux in federal court; the federal court dismissed the claims against Laux. In the state court case, the district court awarded damages in the amount of $ 98,223.20 for negligence, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with the murder. JoAnn contended that the damages awarded by the district court were insufficient and constituted clear error.
Were the damages awarded by the district court insufficient?
The instant court could not say that the trial court's determination of damages for loss of society was clearly wrong. While the trial court concluded that the parent-child relationship in this case had intrinsic value, it examined the record and concluded that the objective evidence of love, affection, care, attention, companionship, comfort, and protection in that relationship did not necessarily match the testimony in that regard; this was relevant to the amount of damages to be awarded. Regarding damages resulting from the sheriff's liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the trial court's determination of damages bore a reasonable relation to the evidence and was not clearly wrong.