Legal expert Irwin Feinberg tells PEOPLE the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Jim Carrey will be "difficult" to prove in court

By Michael Miller
Updated September 20, 2016 12:05 AM
Credit: FameFlynet

Proving that Jim Carrey is responsible for his late girlfriend’s death is not going to be easy for her estranged husband – but that doesn’t mean he’ll come out his wrongful death suit lawsuit empty handed.

Mark Burton, who was legally married to Carrey’s late girlfriend Cathriona White at the time of her death, filed a complaint against the actor on Monday.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Burton’s lawyer Michael Avenatti said he and Burton are asking for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to launch an investigation into White’s death. “We look forward to the facts and evidence relating to Mr. Carrey’s conduct and role in the death of Ms. White coming to light,” Avenatti said.

Carrey, 54, has responded in a statement obtained by PEOPLE saying: “What a terrible shame. It would be easy for me to get in a back room with this man’s lawyer and make this go away, but there are some moments in life when you have to stand up and defend your honor against the evil in this world.”

In the complaint, obtained by PEOPLE, Burton claims the actor provided White with illegally obtained drugs that she used to commit suicide last year. The complaint alleges that Carrey gave White the pills “despite the fact that he knew full well that Ms. White was ill equipped to ingest and manage highly addictive prescription drugs outside the care of a licensed physician, was prone to depression and had previously attempted to take her own life.”

In order to prove Carrey is responsible, attorney Irwin Feinberg, an expert on wrongful death lawsuits, tells PEOPLE, “Burton must show not only that Carrey supplied her with these pharmaceutical drugs, but also that he knew – or should have known – that she would do herself harm with them.”

Proving this, Feinberg says, “is particularly difficult because we’re talking about an adult woman, who volitionally and outside of Carrey’s presence, took these drugs and harmed herself.”

One piece of evidence that could prove important to both sides of the case are text messages Carrey sent White around the time of her death. White’s toxicology report states that when police checked her phone, they found texts from Carrey asking if she “knew where his painkillers went from under his sink.” He also mentioned that a bottle of prescription anti-inflammatories was missing. In his complaint, Burton claims Carrey sent these “bogus” texts to “cover-up his conduct and complicity in her death.”

“The text messages are very important,” Feinberg says. “It seems to me that by claiming these texts are bogus, Burton’s team is trying to inoculate themselves from the defense that Carrey would likely assert, which is that he did not know she took the pills and that he never gave them to her in the first place.”

But the texts could work against Carrey as well. Feinberg explains, “If it turns out Burton can show Carrey did send these texts after giving her the pills, then that fact – if it can be proved – will go a long way to showing a realization on his part that he had no business giving her the pills. In lay parlance, it could point to a guilty conscience.”

Ultimately, the legal expert believes that while “the existence of the texts are important, the question is who benefits from them; and that’s going to depend upon more information being derived as to the surrounding details of the text messages themselves.”

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While proving Burton’s allegations won’t be easy, Feinberg says, “It may be that the difficulty of proving this case is offset by the amount of money that Carrey has and the celebrity value and embarrassment that results from this kind of lawsuit.” In other words, the discovery process, which would include Carrey’s deposition being taken, is “the very type of intrusion that celebrities many times will pay quickly to settle out of incurring.”

Filing a complaint, therefore, “positions Burton to try and extract a significant amount from the celebrity, who otherwise could be dragged through this lengthy, intrusive, embarrassing and expensive exercise.”

Carrey’s team, Feinberg says, is likely to point this out one way or another. “Whether it is done frontally or in a more indirect fashion, I think that Carrey’s team is going to try to show that this is simply a form of otherwise legal extortion – that this is a shakedown.” At the time of White’s death, sources told PEOPLE she was separated from Burton and was planning “to start divorce proceedings.” News of that she was married came as a surprise to many, and sources in her hometown of Cappawhite, Ireland, told PEOPLE that few people, including some relatives, were even aware she had a husband.

Burton, on the other hand, “will try to show is that this is the abuse of a very fragile woman by someone who had a lot of power and influence over her. He’s going to argue that she would not have committed suicide if not for Carrey’s power or influence over her, which is going to be a really tough showing to make.”

In terms of what Burton could expect from of a settlement, or what he could expect to be awarded in court, Feinberg says there’s no way to guess. “It runs the gambit,” he explains. “In terms of a settlement, it depends on what’s likely to be awarded in court, which would be a function of what White’s earning capacity was and the nature of her relationship to Burton. If punitive damages are sought, that would be a function of Carrey’s net worth.” Outside of what the court might award, a settlement would also factor in “how much it is worth to Carrey to put this to bed.”

As for Burton’s lawyer’s request that the LAPD reopen their investigation into White’s suicide, Feinberg says that any criminal investigation would have an even higher standard of proof than a civil wrongful death suit. “But if the criminal investigation goes to his acquisition of the pills under a fake name, then that would certainly assist the plaintiff in building his case and putting pressure on Carrey.”

Meanwhile, with the one-year anniversary of White’s death approaching, a source told PEOPLE that Carrey is slowly moving on with his life.

“He’s doing good now but he’s still very much affected by her death,” the source said of the star, adding that White’s suicide “was extremely difficult for Jim.”

“There was a lot of sadness and many ‘what if’ questions,” the source said. “It hit him very hard. He went through a long grieving period.”

After her death, Carrey issued an emotional note saying he’s “deeply saddened by the passing of my sweet Cathriona.” He added, “She was a truly kind and delicate Irish flower, too sensitive for this soil, to whom loving and being loved was all that sparkled.”