Nick Gordon has been found “legally responsible” in his girlfriend Bobbi Kristina Brown‘s July 2015 death, despite an ongoing criminal investigation into the January incident which initially left her unresponsive – a decision not too uncommon, an expert tells PEOPLE.
Gordon failed to appear twice in an Atlanta, Georgia, court in response to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by 22-year-old Brown’s estate last year, Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford said. Thus, anything alleged by the plaintiff is admitted through omission, the judge said.
Now, the judge will determine how much Gordon must pay in damages to Brown’s estate, her attorney R. David Ware said in a press conference filmed by 11 Alive outside of court.
“In court today, we finally finished a long journey for justice for Bobbi Kristina Brown,” Ware said. “The court agrees with us, by striking Mr. Gordon’s answer that he is legally responsible for her death. The only thing left to prove is the value of her life. We intend to do that.”
Gordon has never been criminally charged in Brown’s death, yet a source in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office told PEOPLE that the criminal investigation is “still ongoing.”
“This won’t change anything in the criminal case. Generally speaking, it tends to be the other way around: a criminal conviction is used in a civil case,” the source explained. “Obviously, if he had taken the stand in a civil case, we could have used what he said. But that’s not what happened here. The case is still ongoing, but there are no new updates at this time.”
But how can someone be found civilly but not criminally responsible in a case?
Jeffrey Backman, shareholder and complex class action defense attorney at Florida’s Greenspoon Marder, explains to PEOPLE, “In terms of the difference between civil and criminal, the best example is O.J Simpson.”
“O.J. was found not guilty [in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman] because… in the criminal trial, the jury did not think that the state met its burden of proof and that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed those crimes,” Backman explains. “In a civil trial, the standard is really one that they call a ‘preponderance of the evidence.’ Which, in layman’s terms, is nothing more than saying, ‘It’s more likely than not that he did it.’ ”
Backman adds, “So you can see the disparate level of proof that’s required and the amount of convincing that would be needed to get a jury to find you civilly liable, but not criminally liable.”
In regard to the judge making a decision despite Gordon’s absence, Backman explains, “It’s likely that the court entered a default against him, which is what happens in a civil case if you don’t appear.”
“So if you get sued or someone files a wrongful death complaint against you, if you don’t show up or respond to that complaint within – in most cases it’s 20 or 21 days, depending on the court that you’re in – the court can enter what’s called a default,” he says, “meaning the claims that are made in a complaint are deemed to be true against you.”
The allegations are therefore considered to be true, Backman says. The plaintiff has the opportunity to contest the lawsuit or move to set aside the default, but if there is still no response, a further hearing will be conducted to determine whether or not an actual judgement should be entered.
“It’s easier to convince somebody in a civil courtroom that it’s more likely than not that person A committed a crime as opposed to proving beyond a reasonable doubt,” Backman says, again addressing the difference between civil versus criminal cases. “I don’t think it’s unusual for a wrongful death suit to be brought prior to, or even contemporaneously with, the loss of a criminal case.”
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Gordon has long maintained that he wasn’t involved in Brown’s death, but her father Bobby Brown has adamantly suggested the opposite.
He said during a recent 20/20 interview, “The same thing that happened to my daughter is what happened to [her mom Whitney Houston].”