November 27, 1999
By Ralph Vigoda, Inquirer Staff Writer
The widow of Olympic wrestler David Schultz has settled her wrongful-death claim for a record amount against John E. du Pont, the multimillionaire who shot Schultz to death nearly four years ago in Newtown Square.
The exact award to Nancy Schultz will be kept confidential at the request of lawyers, but those familiar with the drawn-out negotiations say the total will be about $35 million. According to a trade journal that watches such cases, that figure would be the largest award resulting from a wrongful-death suit ever paid directly by one person.
The case was scheduled for trial Monday before Delaware County Court Judge James F. Proud, and it was that imminence that prodded both sides to make the agreement final, say Schultz’s lawyers.
Not all of the money will go directly to Nancy Schultz. Her lawyers, who filed the suit in March 1997, will take a fee of up to 25 percent. The IRS will get a share in federal estate tax, and a portion of the award will be put in trust for the Schultzes’ son, 13, and daughter, 10.
With the case over, Schultz said in a statement released by her lawyers, “I can now turn my attention back to my children as they move through their junior high and high school years without David to guide them. I will continue to honor the memory and legacy of my husband through the Dave Schultz Wrestling Foundation.”
Nancy Schultz, who lives in Foster City, Calif., is president of the foundation, which she began after her husband’s killing to raise money to finance and train wrestlers.
David Schultz, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, was shot to death by du Pont on Jan. 26, 1996, in the driveway of the home Schultz rented at du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm. He was 36 and training for a comeback at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Nancy Schultz’s team of lawyers, including S. Gerald Litvin, Gerald A. McHugh, Jr. and Arthur G. Raynes, all of Philadelphia, submitted a petition to Proud on Tuesday to seal the terms of the agreement. The final settlement was in place the next night. Proud, by law, must approve the agreement, which he is expected to do next week.
The primary stumbling block throughout settlement negotiations was determining an accurate depiction of du Pont’s wealth. During court hearings, Schultz’s lawyers voiced concerns that du Pont was keeping assets hidden to lessen the amount he would have to pay. The two sides met regularly in Proud’s chambers in the last few months.
At du Pont’s murder trial in 1997, his fortune was estimated by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office as close to $250 million. His lawyers strongly disputed that figure, and sources now say his wealth is about half that, or approximately $125 million. A sizable portion of du Pont’s worth comes from his 400-acre Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square, where he lived from birth until his arrest in January 1996.
Du Pont’s longtime lawyer, Taras M. Wochok of Paoli, said yesterday that his client was “happy to put this behind him.” He said du Pont was in good health.
“He’s adjusted to his present life,” he said.
Du Pont, who was benefactor of the successful Foxcatcher wrestling team based at his farm, was arrested two days after the killing when he stepped outside his mansion, where he had gone after shooting Schultz. As police ringed the grounds, he refused to surrender, coming out only after law enforcement officials turned off the heat and told du Pont he would be free to go to the powerhouse and check the generator.
He was held in Delaware County Prison until September 1996, when he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial by Judge Patricia Jenkins. She reversed that ruling two months later after du Pont received treatment at Norristown State Hospital. Testimony in his murder trial began in January 1997 and lasted five weeks, followed by a week of deliberations by the jury, which found du Pont guilty of third-degree murder, but mentally ill.
Du Pont’s lawyers have said he hoped to return to Foxcatcher Farm when he finished his 13-year minimum prison term in January 2009. Du Pont, who turned 61 Monday, will be 70 then. Du Pont, married briefly in 1983, has no children.
Since May 1997, he has been at Cresson state prison in Cambria County, about 10 miles from Altoona.
In a formal statement, Wochok said, “In reaching the settlement, du Pont sought to bring closure to what has been a devastating time for Nancy and her children and to help them make a new beginning. He sympathizes with the Schultz family for the grief they suffered. For du Pont, the settlement also ends a dark chapter in what was otherwise a life driven by patriotism, natural history, sports and philanthropy.”
The award to Nancy Schultz includes compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages cover actual expenses, such as funeral and burial costs, plus an estimate of the income David Schultz would have earned during his life.
A monetary figure also is placed on Nancy Schultz’s loss of her husband’s companionship, and on the loss of the guidance David Schultz would have provided for his children. Generally, such awards are tax-free.
Punitive damages are designed to punish du Pont, and generally make up the bulk of such awards. The punitive damages would be subject to federal estate tax or state inheritance tax.
Also taxable is an award for the pain and suffering of David Schultz before he died from the gunshot wounds.
“No amount of money can ever compensate Nancy and her children for the loss of their husband and father, but this settlement will at least assure them financial security in Dave’s absence,” her lawyers said.
The money du Pont will pay is the largest wrongful-death settlement that is collectible against an individual’s assets, according to Thomas Harrison, publisher of Lawyers Weekly USA, a national newspaper for lawyers that tracks large awards. While other awards have been for more money—the $907 million verdict earlier this year against convicted Philadelphia murder Ira Einhorn is believed to be the biggest ever—those are not likely to be paid.
There have been larger collectible awards—in malpractice cases, for example—but they have been paid primarily by institutions, or covered by insurance, Harrison said.
Perhaps the most publicized wrongful-death award in recent years was the $33.5 million that O.J. Simpson was ordered to pay in 1997 after a jury found him liable for the deaths in 1994 of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman—even though he was acquitted fo the murder in his criminal trial. However, his lawyers have said he has no money, and it is unlikely that amount will be paid.