Woodward must face civil trial, rules judge

A FEDERAL judge in the United States ruled last night that Louise Woodward, the British woman convicted last year of the manslaughter of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen, must stand civil trial in Boston to determine whether she should pay both compensatory and punitive damages to the boy's family.

"We have to have a real trial on the assessment of damages - compensatory, and possibly punitive," declared Judge William Young at the conclusion of a one-day hearing in Boston.

Earlier this year, Woodward, who is now back in Britain and studying in Brighton, waived her right to contest a civil lawsuit filed against her by Deborah and Sunil Eappen, the parents of Matthew.

At the time, lawyers for the Woodwards said the family had no funds to fight a new trial. But recently the Woodwards hired new lawyers in Boston to attempt to block any trial to assess punitive damages.

They argued in briefs yesterday that Woodward could not be sued for such damages because her involuntary manslaughter conviction, delivered one year ago, did not find that she had engaged in "willful, wanton, or reckless conduct" as required under a Massachusetts statute.

Woodward was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last November by Judge Hiller Zobel, who acted to reduce her original jury conviction of second degree murder and agreed to release her on time already served.

On her release, however, the Eappens served notice that they would be filing a civil lawsuit. The Eappens said that their motive was to prevent Woodward from making any money from the tragedy by selling her story to tabloid newspapers.

In arguments yesterday, the Eappen lawyers accused Woodward of attempting a "campaign of revisionism", by basing her case on the "startling suggestion that the criminal trial judge effectively acquitted her of criminal liability for Matthew Eappen's death".

No date was set for the civil trial, which Woodward could not be compelled to attend.

Although it is possible that both compensatory and punitive damages combined could add up to tens of millions of dollars, legal experts concede that it may be impossible for the Eappens ever to collect the money.

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