The attorney for the family of a man killed by the Las Vegas shooter is petitioning the court (making a formal written application to a judge that requests action on a certain matter) to freeze (prevent transfer) of the assets of the gunman, Stephen Paddock. The concern is that the shooter’s property will be distributed to his girlfriend, his brother, or other possible heirs before the victims’ families have time to pursue wrongful death cases (civil lawsuits by a deceased’s survivors seeking compensation for illegally causing death). Said the lawyer pursuing the freeze, “It is for the benefit of everyone. It will preserve the assets subject to the court’s direction and future distribution.”
The shooter, known to be an avid gambler, may have significant assets. His brother has described him as a multimillionaire. Reports indicate he won $5 million in 2015 alone. His winnings for more recent years are not available.
Freezing assets is a precautionary measure taken quickly to protect claimants against the risk of disposal, reduction in value, or loss of assets pending a lawsuit against the defendant. The justification for such orders is to prevent anticipated money judgments from being rendered useless by assets being exhausted before the judgments can be obtained.
A related remedy is the appointment of a receiver (an individual appointed by a court to oversee money or property during a lawsuit) to take control of the assets of the defendant. This is granted where there is a measurable risk that a defendant or his heirs will act in breach of the freezing order. The petition for the asset freeze of Paddock’s property asks the court to appoint a receiver to oversee and protect the shooter’s estate (the collection of assets owned by a deceased person at the time of death).
The circumstances of the Vegas shooter seem ideally suited for a freezing order.
The applicant for a freezing order must provide an undertaking (a sum of money provided as a guarantee) to the court. The purpose of this money is to compensate the defendant (in this case, defendant’s estate) for any damage caused by the freezing order.
Why is the court likely to issue a freezing order against Paddock’s estate?